ELMA — Les and Kim Beerbower’s place on the Cloquallum Road near Elma is a little like Christmas.
The Beerbowers, The Vidette’s random readers for March, have subscribed to the paper for years “to get the local news,” Les Beerbower said.
Mrs. Beerbower is a longtime Grays Harbor PUD customer service employee. Her husband Les is practically a lifelong Elma resident who retired last June after more than 36 years at the chemical plant in Elma.
In Beerbower’s “man cave,” his spacious garage with both wood and electric heat and windows overlooking parts of the 40-acre Beerbower Christmas Tree Farm, he talked of growing up, his working years, his family and more.
Then he conducted a tour for one of the sections of the tree farm, where thousands of grand, noble and alpine fir trees flourish — and about 1,000 more nobles and grands were being planted. An alpine fir, by the way, is a high-altitude Douglas fir, he noted.
Beerbower is a cousin of virtually every other Beerbower around. Asked how he’s related to former Grays Harbor County Commissioner Bob Beerbower, he said his grandfather, George, and the former commissioner’s, Frank, were first cousins.
A Kansas native, George Beerbower moved to Washington in the 1930s, the 1940 U.S. Census indicates. He “homesteaded up the East Satsop just above Schafer State Park,” his grandson said, noting his grandfather and his wife, Delpha, had 15 children, only two of them girls.
His grandfather “got into the logging business with the Schafer Brothers,” Beerbower said, adding that using either mules or oxen, he “hauled logs out of the woods for Schafer Brothers — my grandfather and the 13 boys.”
CLOSE TO HOME
A 1969 Elma High School graduate, Les Beerbower and his wife still live on the 60-acre home-site where he was raised by his parents, Virgil, who died in 1998, and Nona, now 91. In 1976, he and his father, who both worked in construction, built the home where Les and Kim Beerbower live.
At 16, Beerbower said, he began working summers as an apprentice electrician with his dad, a construction electrician. That continued as he went on to major in geology and graphic design at the University of Washington. They helped build the Mossy Rock Dam and the Centralia Steam Plant.
One summer, Beerbower was sent to work at a newly logged site for a chemical plant that’s now located inside Elma, where he helped put in a railroad spur. The next summer, he helped in the plant’s construction, “doing anything and everything” … and ending up “shooting the grade” for the underground piping.
“Shooting the grade,” Beerbower explained, is using an instrument called a transit to ensure “the pipe is at the correct depth in the ditch,” he said.
That winter, Beerbower took a month off college to work there, as the Ventron Chemical Plant was being readied to open the following February. “We were basically wrapping up, doing every little, tiny thing that needed to be done,” he said. He also got to know Jack Durrell, who had been hired as plant manager.
Durrell offered Beerbower a job. “After being in Seattle for four years, I had made my mind up as a country farm boy that I really didn’t like the city,” he said. And working in “graphic design was going to put me in a big city.”
So it wasn’t “a real tough decision for me,” Beerbower said. He liked living in Elma and enjoyed the family farm, with its livestock, hay crop and a “giant garden” full of vegetables.
He started out in 1976 as a chemical operator at Ventron. Nearly 37 years later, Beerbower retired as manager of the Maintenance Department at the Dow Chemical plant. Through the years, it had also been called Thiokol, Morton Thiokol, Morton International and Rohm and Haas.
Beerbower’s graphic design skills were handy for the plant’s 25th anniversary, when he designed and edited a memory book for the occasion that bears a logo, which Beerbower also designed. A photo in the book of a younger Beerbower and a co-worker, Lee Mougous, identifies them as “Sugarbooger (Mougous) and Dude.”
Beerbower also helped found the Bush Creek volunteer fire department, where he served as chief for about a decade with a host of other dedicated volunteers.
ANOTHER FAMILY BUSINESS
Kim (Eagan) Beerbower grew up in Olympia, where her family owned all the Eagan Drive-in Restaurants “before McDonald’s was even there,” her husband said. “And they’re still there,” including one on Harrison Avenue (“Mud Bay Road”), which “has been there forever,” he said.
When his future wife was 12, “she was in there selling hamburgers,” Beerbower said. He was 17 and had a car, and that drive-in “was the big hangout in Olympia. … So she sold me burgers for quite a few years without us really knowing each other,” he said.
Eventually, however, they did get to know each other and were married July 25, 1981, in Lacey. They have three sons and a daughter. Their first grandchild is due in August.
Their oldest son, Nicholas, lives in Texas, and is an account manager for a large trucking company. Daughter Lindsay is a teacher in the Grant County farming town of Mattawa, near the Columbia River. Jacob and Brett still live in the East County area and helped plant more Christmas trees this month.
That’s a good thing since, according to Beerbower, they got him into the business in 2005. They both trimmed, cut and bailed Christmas trees for a friend’s dad for a while, Beerbower said, and one of them came home one day and suggested, “Dad, you need to do something like a tree farm with all this land.”
“So they convinced me,” Beerbower said. And “once I started doing it, I got the bug really bad.” He also says Don Tapio, agriculture and community horticulture agent for the Washington State University Extension in Grays Harbor and Thurston counties, “really, really helped mentor me.”
Beerbower figures the farm now has about 13,000 thriving trees. As it grows, each tree is hand-trimmed for the fullest and most pleasing shape. And because the grass under them and in the rows between is kept mowed, customers never need to deal with mud when choosing a Christmas tree, Beerbower pointed out.
It’s a “u-pick, we-cut” operation, Beerbower said. Those searching for the perfect tree, even a living one, will likely also find a bonfire and some hot chocolate at the Beerbower Christmas Tree Farm, a couple of miles or so from the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds. For more information, such as when the farm is open during the Christmas season, visit www.beerbowerxmastrees.com.