Happy Trails Cold Warrior!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gale Stromberg with the Arriba Rocket
It's the kind of party that the man to your right would have very much enjoyed. I wish he could be there. After all, it is in his honor. It's my hope and prayer -- however -- that he will be there in spirit.

I lost a big part of me this past week -- a loss that not even I can comprehend at this point. The gentleman to your right, pictured in front of the rocket he helped build (the Arriba), passed away last week from lung cancer. His death closed a chapter on a wonderful period in my life and in the life that is the wonderful wife -- Venus.

Gale Stromberg -- Rocket Man Extraordinaire -- took his final breath under heavy sedation inside a Kaiser Hospital Room in Roseville. The old man was 75-years young. With him, passed the story -- and a life -- of a lifetime.

Services for Gale -- and the party that he most certainly would have enjoyed -- will take place this weekend.

Gale with daughter, Venus
I wasn't expecting this -- to be be brutally honest. Up until his dying day I kept telling him -- more like pleading -- that he had at least another 20-years of life yet to live. There are unfinished projects to complete I told him. There is a lawn to plant. Landscaping projects demand his attention. There are gardening boxes yet unbuilt.

Yet -- nothing could sway the cancer that claimed the life of the most wonderful father that I will ever have in this lifetime. He may have been -- by law -- just a father-in-law. But the men who proceeded him in my lifetime can't hold a candle to the impact he had on me.

There are those men -- and women -- who come around and brighten your life ever so rarely that you can count them on the fingers of just one hand. Gale Stromberg was that man. His passing leaves a hole inside of me that I doubt will ever be filled.

The title to this post is fitting -- because the gentle man that was Gale Stromberg was indeed the consumate Cold Warrior. A self-taught engineer who grew up during World War II -- Stromberg volunteered most of his life in the service of this country. His accomplishments are the stuff of legend.

Gale with grandaughter, Celina
By the time I met Gale -- as a young man in desperate pursuit of his lovely daughter -- most of his work on behalf of the United States military had already come and gone. Gale Stromberg had retired to the hills of Auburn -- where he put his engineering skills to work on cracking the thick lava cap that blanketed the half acre of backyard so he could grow citrus trees and other wonders. In every backyard that Gale ever landscaped, citrus trees grow. Citrus trees thrive.

Gale loved his citrus. Gale loved a challenge. Crack that lava cap he did in the most ingenious of ways. Where other men used dynamite -- Gale used the gray matter between his ears. No problem -- no obstacle -- ever slowed him down. His engineering skills won the day.

Gale was born in 1935 -- and his formal education lasted little beyond a high school diploma. Perhaps it was the sight and sound of the V2 rockets used by Nazi, Germany in World War II that drove him into the field of rocket science, nobody is really sure. But the Rocket Man left his mark.

After a short career at Aerojet in Rancho Cordova -- the father-in-law went to work for United Technologies (UTC) in the Bay Area. It was there where the old man help develop the fuel systems for the Atlas, Titan and Rapier missiles and the dreaded Tomahawk Cruise Missile that was unveiled to the world for the first time during the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein.

Gale and Venus on Lake Nicaragua
If he wasn't designing fuel systems that struck fear into the hearts of ruthless dictators around the world, he was helping design booster rockets for the Space Shuttle program. Although his work took place so very long ago -- elements of it are still in use today -- long after the old man said goodbye to the 40-hour work week.

When the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall finally fell -- Gale's career in rocket science came to an end. Funding for the research and design work that he dedicated his life too dried up. He was still fairly young when he was offered the Golden Handshake that many defense workers would receive -- but the old man recognized opportunity and jumped at it.

He would spend the rest of his life building garden boxes, buying and selling homes during the real estate boom, entertaining grandchildren and studying the somewhat young man his daughter brought home to his house one day. He just wasn't sold yet on the kid who would someday call him father-in-law. That is -- until -- I asked for his help in building a garden box for the backyard.

Suddenly -- I was alright in his world.

Stromberg Gardening Boxes
The garden boxes in use today in our North Natomas farm are a far cry from the simple project boxes we tackled at first. Inspired by his original design -- I took it and produced something on a much grander scale. The "V for Venus"  gardening boxes that grow heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, vegetables, melons and other produce simply would not have happened without Gale Stromberg.

It's because of Gale that I can design and build boxes for any use. It's because of Gale Stromberg that I can install PVC irrigation systems for small and large yards. It's because of him that I can optimize the use of drip irrigation technologies. Because of him -- I can install electrical outlets and switches. I have carpentry, irrigation and electrical skills that I never dreamed I would ever acquire because of this one man.

I was a sponge. I soaked it all in. And -- over time - I came to love him like I had no other man. I didn't quite realize this until he had taken his last breath. But now -- that he's gone from this world -- I've come to realize what a treasure this man was.

Gale Stromberg with grandchildren
Cancer is a terrible way to die. It's a terribly dehabilitating disease that robs every last decency and respect from a man before robbing him of his last breath. Gale fought the good fight before his death. His final year was spent enjoying the myriad of western shows and movies that are shown on the Encore Western Channel. What he had marveled at in his youth on the silver screen -- he saw again from the comfort of his home.

When he had seen all there was to see -- and build all there was to build -- it was time for the final trip home.

Too bad none of us were ready to say goodbye.