Built by Bob

Tygh Valley volunteer turns problems into possibilities

By Drew Myron

All-around handyman Bob Gustafson has built 20 bird nest platforms for Wasco Electic Cooperative. The platforms are attached to utility poles to divert osprey from power sources.
All-around handyman Bob Gustafson has built 20 bird nest platforms for Wasco Electic Cooperative. The platforms are attached to utility poles to divert osprey from power sources.

At 80, a life of hard work has taken a toll on Bob Gustafson. He sports two titanium knees, a new heart valve and a set of surgically repaired shoulders. But he’s not about to stop.

“You gotta patch up to keep going,” he says. “Every morning you wake up and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Bob has served the Tygh Valley community for more than 50 years. He’s a can-do man with the attitude and aptitude to move from pig farmer to cement finisher to house builder to furniture maker. He is also an active volunteer with 4-H Club and community groups.

Bob’s latest project is building bird platforms for Wasco Electric Cooperative. Partnering with the cooperative, he has crafted 20 wood structures where osprey can build their nests. The platforms are attached to utility poles in an attempt to divert the birds from power equipment.

“Every spring, we fight the birds and have outages due to osprey nesting,” says Frank Roeder, Maupin’s line foreman. “The bird population is growing, and it moves up and down the river. The platforms have really made our system reliable.”

Frank and Bob worked together to create the optimum nesting platform. They designed a bird rest that measures 4 feet by 4 feet, is 6 inches deep and extends beyond the power pole. At Bob’s urging, the platforms are all-natural and made from cedar. The finished pieces have been placed along the Deschutes River, John Day and Warm Springs.

“All the osprey platforms are occupied,” Frank reports. Bird interference is a common challenge, according to Operations Manager Casey McCleary, who has worked at Wasco Electric for 34 years.

Osprey nests can create power outages. Platforms, such as this one along the Deschutes River near Maupin, help keep the system reliable. Photo by Frank Roeder

While many rural power companies grapple with the issue, not all have a customer who can lend a hand. Not only is Bob an experienced carpenter, but he refuses payment for his work. He insists money be donated to South Wasco County School’s high school wood shop.

“Bob has always been so community-oriented,” Casey says. “He’s such a humble, nice guy.”

It’s a common refrain.

“He’s a giving individual,” Frank says, noting Bob’s volunteer work with the 4-H youth programs and the Wasco County Fair in Tygh.

For years, Bob has served as swine superintendent, mentoring and managing up to 30 kids and 60 pigs a year.

“I’ve been in swinery for 49 years,” he says. “I’m going to try to get to 50.”

“Every year, every meeting, Bob is there helping out with everything that has to do with pigs and kids,” Frank says. “He’s always been so generous, giving and kind.”

Born in Portland in 1938, Bob grew up in Troutdale, where the hard work started early. At age 11, he milked cows. By high school he was raising pigs—an endeavor that turned into a career spanning nearly 40 years. At the apex, he tended more than 600 pigs.

Bob and his wife, Marge, married in 1959 and moved to Tygh Valley in 1962. Moving from wet Western Oregon to the dry east side was an easy decision, Bob says.

“We came for the lower taxes, more sun, less rain and a good place to raise kids,” he says.

Bob’s home is a display of his own creations: handcrafted tables, chairs, tile art and marker trees for children.

For years, he raised pigs—and two girls. His daughter Lisa Chastain works as a secretary at Maupin Grade School. Daughter Teresa Stratton is a retired teacher who lives in Union.

After raising pigs, Bob started working with wood. Then he operated a concrete mixer and mastered the cement trade. At age 50, he secured his contractor’s license and started a career building homes and industrial shops.

“I just wanted to stay on the job longer,” he says.

Though he had no formal training, Bob learned by trial and triumph. He built more than 25 web-steel farm buildings, numerous houses and outbuildings, and repaired bridges and portions of the Dufur Historical Society’s Living History Museum.

Bob’s home is a display of his own creations: tables, chairs, elaborate tile bathrooms, and even wall art made of broken tile.

“I try a lot of different things,” he says.

Lately, he’s been busy making marker trees. Designed for youngsters, with his great-grandchildren as his test audience, the trees are crafted from limbs of locust and oak, with individual holes to hold markers. The Marker Tree earned a blue ribbon at the Wasco County Fair. He has made more than 80 and given them all away.

His range of skill is unusual, but Bob is a practical man, self- taught and self-started. Making things was “just a necessity,” he says.

When Bob and Marge were young and newly married, he built their house.

“We were broke and we didn’t know it,” he says with a laugh.

Their house on the hill offers beautiful valley views but a treacherous drive. Two years ago, during a brutal winter, their truck slipped and slid again and again.

“That winter, it was just like a hula hoop,” Bob says. “There was no end to it.”

The couple is moving down the hill and into a single-level home on flat land. What was once their pig pen is now the couple’s new single-level home, built by—you guessed it—Bob.

“I had some help on this one,” he says, “but I keep my hand in it.”