Arper has truly done it all

Standing on the Port of Silverdale’s boat launch, Bob Arper (left) and Harry Knapp reminisce about the good old days a half century ago or more — when both participated in the development of Silverdale. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Standing on the Port of Silverdale’s boat launch, Bob Arper (left) and Harry Knapp reminisce about the good old days a half century ago or more — when both participated in the development of Silverdale.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Ah, the good old days.

If you wanted a park, you just built it. If you needed a fire department, you just built one. If you needed fuel or beer hauled in and lumber or trash hauled away, you just called Bob Arper — the renaissance man of early Silverdale.

Actually, everybody wore a lot of hats in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s — back when longtime Brownsville resident Arper was involved in all of the above, and more.

Robert Arper was born in 1919 and raised in Roy, just outside Tacoma. He attended schools in Tacoma — but took a summer off during the Depression to ride the rails.

He was 14.

Arper got as far as Montana (“Too cold!”) and said he had his best experiences as a hobo in the Federal Camps for transients in Pasco, Wash.

“You got two meals a day,” he said, “Three meals and a bed if you worked, so I went to work — in the kitchen.... My family wasn’t too happy about me taking off like that,” he chortled, but “I had a lot of fun riding those boxcars.”

Arper said his uncle put the kibosh on any more hoboing, and put him to work in his garage in Yelm.

“I worked weekends and summers while I went to school, and actually had my own car to make the commute — a 1926 Chevrolet with a wooden frame.” He recalled the car’s frame finally “falling apart” and having to be held together with rope.

“Work at the garage was steady. Then I decided I wanted to be educated and attended Santa Monica Junior College in California. While there, I went to work for Douglass Aircraft when Donald Douglass was still running things.”

Arper found his knack for car repair easily translated into being an airplane machinist.

“I signed up to go to UCLA, but then had a chance to come back here, and headed north,” he said.

He worked at PSNS during World War II, finally joining the Navy in 1944. He said there were “barrage balloons and searchlights everywhere” due to the proximity of the shipyard.

He was in the Navy for only a few months before being released because of disabilities — he was injured during boot camp, and then came down with a whopping case of scarlet fever.

Arper recovered, however, and married Lillian — also in 1944.

Not long after, he and his father started the first all-volunteer fire department in Silverdale — District 1.

“Often, me and my dad were the only ones who went out on a call,” he said. The early department had an old Chevy fire truck with a water pump that worked off the fan belt. There was also a Mack tanker with a big wooden tank — not metal. He and his dad went on to establish Brownsville’s first fire department, District 15, in the early 1950s.

“I was the first commissioner for District 15,” he commented. That fire station — made from wood milled in Silverdale at the old mill near present day CK High — is still standing.

Arper also joined the Silverdale Port District as a commissioner, and went through the battle with the public to create the now popular Brownsville Marina.

“Those living here didn’t want to attract more people,” he said. “They got awfully mad at me. I just asked them if they had children, they said ‘yes,’ then I asked them where they expected their kids to live. You can’t stop progress.... It usually shut ’em up.”

The marina has about 300 slips today.

He donated the first bit of land that eventually became Silverdale Park.

“We built the first shelter or gazebo there in 1953 or ’54. It sat where the small hills are now in the park,” he said, adding that creating the beach back then was simply a matter of using a caterpillar tractor to push up rocks during low tides.

“Try anything like that nowadays and you’d have every environmental group in the state after you,” he said with a smile.

Back then, Central Kitsap was one of three things: swamps in the lowlands, forests on the hills, and chicken farms everywhere else. “Pastoral” was the key descriptive, not “retail,” like today.

Arper started his own business in the early 1950s that quickly became a career: The Silverdale Fuel & Transfer Co. Early stationery declared the company dealt in stoves, diesel and oil fuels, coal and oil burners, heavy hauling, and garbage collection.

His fleet of trucks hauled timber out of Washington and cement to Seattle for years. His trucks hauled Budweiser beer from California to Washington, also for years. He lost this contract when one of his drivers fell asleep at the wheel and rolled a truck off the road in Oregon, in 1984.

The driver wasn’t hurt, but “He told me he sure was surprised when he woke up to find himself flying off the road.”

Arper sold his business and retired three years ago.

“We had a lot of fun over the years doing all that stuff,” said Arper, who seemed to have spent his 80-plus years of life having a good time no matter what he did — and he did it all.

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