Running On Empty; Remembering Striker Buck Kinley

       Almost one half year into the strike, in November, striker Ronald Kinley committed suicide. Known as “Buck”, Kinley was a 48-year-old maintenance worker with 28 years’ experience in the plant. Coworkers said he became upset when the company hired replacement workers in the weeks following the strike. “He just grew real quiet,” said his son, Tim. He added that his dad one day simply said, “I might as well face it, I’m out of a job.”

       Another striker, Steve, noted that Buck was his distant cousin. Steve talked with Buck on his last day on earth, kidded with him about blowing up the paper mill. Steve got no response from Buck, usually a great kidder himself. He asked him what was the matter and got no reply. Later that day Buck shot himself.

Wally: Buck Kinley was one of the better workers they had out there. He went out of his way to do his job. He couldn’t take the pressure of scabs going in the mill and doing his work. So he finally went out and shot himself, all over the strike, a good man. I had known him about 15, 20 years.

Mary (Buck’s wife who died a few years later): Buck had 27 years there, and then to...just one day say...that’s it and you have no more job. It’s pretty rough. We lived and breathed the paper mill. He would get called at any hour of the night and go and do this. Like the week of shutdown, they were there like the whole week of fourth of July, maybe eighty hours or more, just replacing and cleaning and doing things. He’d have to stay and they’d have start-up and all that stuff again. He worked constantly. He was active. He hunted. Well, he didn’t fish but he hunted. He was just your average guy I guess.

What was he saying about the strike as it started?

Well he was really gung-ho at first. But as it progressed he just...schwoof...he just went right downhill. We’d go to those rallies and different meetings that the union had. And he picketed.

You and Buck didn’t like neutrals?

Yeah, I guess you could say that.

Was he as vocal as you are?

No (laughs). In fact, maybe I should have thought more about it. But close to the end he didn’t talk about it hardly at all. He just came home. And that was it. He wasn’t as vocal but there were other things I think...’s just. See it was only like going on like five months. But I think that he knew once the scabs went in. It was just downhill. That was it. There wasn’t much more he could do or fight for or anything.

Ron: I just don’t see it. People the way they are now with what happened with the cops in LA, it happened here in 87. It just didn’t happen to an area that had a chance to explode on them. This situation here got out of hand at times. The real tragedy of the whole thing is...I’ll always have to, it sticks in my head. And it has since it happened. We lost a lot of families that broke up over it, the town will never be the same. But bottom line was somebody ended up killing himself over it. And I guess that sits hard with me. I’ll always wonder, you know, was I part of the reason that Buck Kinley shot himself. (Ron was an active member and officer during the strike.) I knew him quite well from in the mill, did not know him personally on the outside, but knew him from working with him. He worked the same shift that we did, worked on a lot of stuff. Buck was a strong unionized man. I think that’s basically why Buck did what he did. He could not stand to stand by any longer and watch it go on. Something that he had been there all of his life for, had been a union member from day one. He couldn’t bear any more to watch everything that they had fought for all their life just go and saw that he was gonna make no change on it. So, he took whatever he thought was right and went out. And I guess that’s the problem I have out of the whole situation. I know families have been changed, divided, split, but ultimately to wonder if you’re the responsible party of somebody to put a gun and end his life in a tragic way. That is really what sticks in my mind the most out of the whole situation.

What would you say to John Georges, CEO of IP, about Buck?

That question was asked of him, through negotiations. How does he feel dealing with the fact that he is a responsible party for a man giving his life. And the only response that come back was...we regret that there’s a loss in Mr. Kinley’s family. It was presented through us, you know, back through the International, that this was an addressed issue. When we met down in Washington, you know, it was after Buck had shot himself. How can you sit across the table and tell us what you’re doing’s right and how do you want us to go back and present that what you’re doing’s right when people have actually shot themself over what you’ve done? And their only response was, you know, we’re sorry for his family. No remorse, no problem, no, you know...we should take a look at it before more choose that way... nothin. Just ...sorry. No heart. I guess that goes with money.

Karl: Buck Kinley. Buck and I hunted and fished and Buck come up to my place and helped me do things in my house when I was remodelling. Put brake lining on my vehicle for me, and so on and so forth. And I know Buck was, I won’t say an excitable person, but he took things so seriously. I mean the man run on premium fuel. He just was a hard working person and always pushing. I know for a fact when you worked graveyard shift, the man would go maybe a day or two days without sleep and go turkey hunting. And I don’t know how he done it. But it was a doggone shame. There was an outstanding human being. He was a nice person, good human being, good marriage, good kids. It’s a doggone shame that that had to happen.

I think, knowing Buck like I do...because his wife had a good job, they had their own home, and it was a good family. I think Buck was a martyr. He just, he done that, how would I say? To try to make a contribution, a very personal contribution, to try to rattle the company. And I could be wrong. But my personal feeling is he made a self-sacrifice to try to help everyone. Knowing Buck like I knew Buck, I honestly believe that Buck did make a sacrifice.

Buck had the experience as a maintenance man. He could have went a lot of places. Unlike a lot of people that come out of that mill. He could have went places and gotten another job. Whereas there’s a lot of people who still don’t have a job. But Buck did have the experience. And a lot of people are finding out that there are other jobs out there and there is another life. But some of them it just took a long time to sink in. And it’s like the man that retires. You’re used to getting up in the morning and going to work. And your first few days of retiring, you get up and eat your breakfast and you don’t know what to do. And each individual has to set themself a goal and do whatever has to be done. You have to make up your mind. Am I gonna set here and pity myself and feel sorry for myself and the situation or do something about it?

Brud: Don’t even mention his name please. Yeah, I knew Buck well. Ahell of a good friend of mine. I worked around him while he was a millwright and I was a pipefitter. And I worked around him a lot. And I just couldn’t believe it when it happened. But I saw him there (at the strike line). I was either on the gates or there at the headquarters almost all the time. And I could see Buck walkin around and lookin in, walkin back and forth and not talkin, and lookin in. But I didn’t really, you know, I didn’t really think... because Buck was a rough, tough character, boy...hunted and fished. And he was a rough character. He could be bad when he wanted to be bad, real bad. And I just couldn’t believe it and that makes me very bitter also. I went to Buck’s funeral. I didn’t want to but I did, you know. I wanted to but I didn’t want to. But it’s a sad thing and I’m sure that was the situation. There’s no doubt about it. He was a worker, boy. When he worked. There was about four guys. Joe Geise was one of them. You know Joe. He was one of the people. There was Dorsey Bottorf. There was about four or five of them that worked together. Dick Seyler, another great big skinny guy. And when they went on a job, they did thejob and got it done and they did good work. And guess what? They’d take about five minutes or ten minutes rest and all of a sudden they’d stick them on another job like that because they knew they’d do the job and work hard. Buck was one of them. Other people would screw around and, you know, maybe not work as hard as they should and everything. And half the time not do near as good work as these guys. A lot of us...and I’m not givin you a snow job...above and beyond the call of duty. You know what I mean. On jobs with the paper machines down. And it was hotter than hell too a lot of times. So hot that you could hardly stand it, up over those machines. And you wanted to get it done so that you could get the hell out of there. But you also did a good job while you was doin it. But they (the company) didn’t seem to appreciate that at times too much.

Mary: Everything revolved around his work. I took the kids to all the ball games and stuff because he was working. It was just more or less all of our, practically all of our meals, everything just revolved around his job and that stuff. There were many times that, well...they used to work the week of July 4th. At that point we wouldn’t see him from morning till late at night, because he would be working. He almost worked around the clock that particular week. Everything revolved around the mill. And he wouldn’t ask to take time off. A lot of the other ones wouldn’t either, because you just didn’t do that.

Joni: He always had a smile, he always had something to say. He seemed happy go lucky. After the strike I guess it all changed.

Was he kind of an average person, like a lot of the other people working at the mill?

Group: Yeah...

Doyle: Yeah, I don’t think there was anybody that didn’t like Buck.

Joni: No. He always talked to me, always. Of course I’ve known him most of my life too. Always had something to say.

Phyllis: He had been out to the mill that morning.

Doyle: He was helping unload that truck of potatoes that came in.

Phyllis: And they said that when he saw the fence there ...

Joni: He had trouble dealing with the scabs crossing the line, watching them go in there and take his job. I know it was in ...November. I was shocked when I heard the news.

Ed: He was a sturdy, open type person, strong, strong willed, a tremendous worker, the kind of guy you wanted to have, you know. A hunter, an outdoorsman, sort of independent, but caring, that type of person. He just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I guess there wasn’t one in reality. You’re looking for that light through the tunnel,
not that light coming through the tunnel in the form of a train. You just don’t expect that. We were led down a path, and it was the wrong one apparently, the wrong track.

Dick: Oh God. Buck was a friend of mine. And it’s still hard for me to believe that he, you know, that he committed suicide. It’s a sad thing that a guy, where he just feels like there’s no tomorrow. There’s just no hope, nothing whatsoever, that the man would go out and take his life because of this. I blame the company for this. Because Buck was a good union man. He realized that ...that we were in the right. And I think that that probably hurt him too. He knew how right we was and the screwin we was takin from the company, not him but all of us. I don’t know, I just...I liked the guy a lot.

an Oral History Project by Dr. Bob Allen, Technical Assistance Ron Gruici
Copyright 2007