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It used to be you could ride your boss’s boat within 25 feet of the Battleship New Jersey during Portland’s Rose Festival. Now, you can hardly get a boat within 400 yards of a battleship, and the USS New Jersey is a floating museum outside of Philadelphia. Besides highlighting the progression of national security, this simple story is a friendly reminder that times change, and no one understands this better than Dave Gardner, the Senior Estimator at Thompson Metal Fab. After spending 44 years around the steel industry (including 27 years with Thompson) Dave is retiring at the end of September.

Dave started his steel odyssey in 1972 as an 18-year-old at Eimco in Salt Lake City. There he began a mechanic apprenticeship and built mining equipment. Four years later, Dave transitioned to Structural Steel & Plate Fabrication, a fab shop in Salt Lake City. Over the following 13 years, Dave climbed the ranks and rounded out his experience, moving from fabrication mechanic to shop foreman, to shop superintendent, and eventually as an Estimator.

In 1989, sensing that it was time to move on from Salt Lake City, Dave went to his local library to plot his next step. “This was (kinda) before computers, so we started looking at ads and I started sending resumes up and down the Pacific Northwest.” Shockingly enough, neither Dave nor his family had ever even visited the PNW. “We just wanted to try something new…but we just felt we wanted to live in the Northwest.”

Harder Mechanical was the only company to follow up with Dave, and subsequently benefit from him. With blind faith, Dave packed up, found a house, and moved his family from Salt Lake City to Vancouver, WA where he would work at Harder Mechanical’s subsidiary, Universal Structures Inc. Only a year-and-a-half later, Dave would transition to another Harder subsidiary company, Thompson Metal Fab. Little did Dave recognize at that time, but after almost 20 years of changes, Dave had found a consistency in his family, in his employer and in the new region he called home.

For the next 27 years, Dave would be associated with some of the most significant projects in TMF’s 80-year history:

    BART/Dopplemayr – Oakland Airport to Coliseum Connector

  • This project featured seven miles of elevated railing and still is the single largest contract ever completed by Thompson.
  • The Dalles Dam – Miter Gates

  • These gates are among the heaviest single structures ever completed by TMF. At over 1-Million pounds each, these gates rival the size of the original Panama Canal gates!
  • Doyon Drilling – Rig 25

  • Although TMF has been manufacturing drilling equipment for multiple decades (even predating Dave), Rig 25 is among the largest, most mobile, and most capable rigs operating on Alaska’s North Slope. Building a rig like this took a lot of coordination, and Dave’s guidance helped produce a quality product.
  • Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs/PGE – Round Butte Dam SWW

  • At over 5-million pounds of total structures, this project is not only among the single largest projects in our history (based on total weight), but this project’s success set the foundation for improving fish habitats all over the Pacific NW. This project has received multiple awards and is recognized for its ingenuity and craftsmanship.

His role with Thompson would allow him the chance to visit Alaska, Mexico, Austria, New York, and yes, nestle up against the USS New Jersey while riding on the old company yacht (Viqueen) across the Gulf of Mexico.

Dave’s retirement is another reminder that times change. For Thompson, the loss of his experience will be difficult to replace, but his knowledge and example of patience has been left behind for others to follow. The steel industry is no less difficult today than when Dave started in 1972, but he teaches us that struggles are easily overcome when you have relationships to fall back on and you’re willing to leave pride at the door. His calm demeanor is rare in our industry and it brought joy to all those he worked with.

For Dave, the changing times means moving on to where Joshua trees, sand stone landscape, and four-wheeling await. “We’re snow-birding down to Arizona… (but) I’ll definitely fly back to see my kids.” The retiring Senior Estimator adds, “I have a lot of great memories here at Thompson. You don’t stay somewhere this long unless you have a good boss and good people…but I just want to live somewhere where I can see the sun!”

Although Thompson is losing an invaluable asset and comrade, we won’t forget that without time changing, Dave wouldn’t have ended up with us in the first place. Congratulations Dave on your retirement, and thank you for your service.

And Dave…we have not forgotten your faith, so your family at Thompson leaves you with this: (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.