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At the end of the road with Myron Gabelein

Road warrior Myron Gabelein has retired after 36 years of service with Island County’s Public Works Department. A gathering to celebrate his retirement will be held tonight at American Legion in Langley. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Road warrior Myron Gabelein has retired after 36 years of service with Island County’s Public Works Department. A gathering to celebrate his retirement will be held tonight at American Legion in Langley.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

When the Bayview county road gang shop held a retirement party for Myron Gabelein on Dec. 12, no one knew he was bailing out just in time.

The very next evening, snow began to fall and the road crew — every one personally hired by Gabelein — were working round the clock to keep county roads passable.

Come tonight, all will be forgiven. A big party is planned to celebrate Gabelein’s 36 years on the job as family and friends get together at the American Legion in Langley.

When Gabelein started working for the county in 1972, his first job was building the courthouse in Coupeville.

“I worked on the original jail, put in the drains and sewers; it was a big job lasting two years,” he recalled.

He’s a second-generation islander, graduating from Langley High School in 1964 along with his future wife Resa; they’ll celebrate their 44 years of marriage later this month.

Gabelein has seen a lot of changes to the South Whidbey landscape over the years, and he freely admits he was responsible for many of them.

“I helped pave roads all over, like Lone Lake, Swede Hill, Campbell and others,” he said. “In a big snowstorm we’d close those roads completely. Of course, that was before all the housing developments went in.”

In the early 1970s, home construction blossomed in the island’s previously rural areas, mainly reflecting Boeing’s economic fortunes. The Scatchet Head, Holmes Harbor and Useless Bay communities reflect that growth, and many of the roads and drainage channels were dug by Gabelein.

Acting road crew supervisor Lance Landquist said Gabelein’s institutional memory will be sorely missed, despite his former boss’s penchant for keeping accurate records on every project.

“He’s got a great memory,” Landquist said. “He knows where all the drainage ditches are, the piping and buried cables everywhere. And he was never afraid to get his hands dirty.”

Gabelein said he’s always available if his crew has a question.

“And my memory gets even better right around lunch time,” Gabelein joked. He added that the crews he picked are knowledgeable and professional in their work.

“In my humble opinion, they’re the best all-around road crew in the county,” he said.

Years ago, he noticed the lack of parking during graduation and football games at South Whidbey High School, so he decided to do something to remedy the problem by simply widening the road. On any given Friday night each fall, hundreds of football fans park along the road widened by Gabelein.

“There were power poles in the way, so I paved around them,” he said. “The power company wasn’t real happy but they finally came out and moved the poles.”

Retirement for Gabelein doesn’t mean lounging around the house all day. On his 10-acre spread above Maxwelton Road, he has the time to tinker endlessly with a barn full of antique tractors.

“A few of them I use to cut, rake and bale hay around the South End,” he said.

But his pride and joy is the 1931 Chevrolet Cabriolet he restored; a car first sold by a dealer on First Street in Langley the year it was built. Gabelein drives it — at a sedate 45 mph — to swap meets, car shows and, of course, in the Island County Fair’s Saturday morning parade.

“It even has a rumble seat,” said Resa, pointing to a picture on the wall with her riding in it.

That photo is one of hundreds that line Gabelein’s kitchen wall, a colorful record of the many folks that have becomes friends over the years.

Each Thanksgiving and Christmas, Gabelein and his wife open their home to people that need a good meal but are too far away from their families for whatever reason. Myron is the cook, Resa does dessert.

“Folks need to have a place to go, and this is it,” he said.

Also on the wall are the antlers of a mule deer festooned with Gabelein’s signature old work hats, a record of sorts reflecting many years spent on island roads and highways in the open air.

“They only last a year or so, and I have to put them somewhere,” he noted.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said Gabelein’s knowledge was a great asset to the department.

“He knew his district like the back of his hand, maybe better,” Oakes said. “He was easily one of our most outstanding employees and a great guy to work with.”

The party is 6 p.m. tonight. Friends, family, co-workers and — Gabelein hopes — just plain strangers, are invited to a celebration of his career with Island County Public Works.

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