Joe Gierga likes fish.
So much so that he has metal schools of fish glistening in the summer sun in front of his metal fabrication workshop on Commercial Street in the Port of Garibaldi.
As the sun shines off his metallic “fish” spinning in the wind, they are joined by stainless steel leaves and feathers – all spinning – as fast as the wind will allow.
His metal wind spinners are a big part of his life now, although the 87-year-old retiree reminds people he could also be doing something else.
He has a sign in his workshop explaining that doing metal work in stainless steel and aluminum is just part of his life. “If I am not here, I might be running, cycling, fishing or just goofing off,” it reads.
“I’m doing it because I like to do it,” he said recently, taking a brief break in his machine shop. “I’m 87. I’m retired, so I have to do something… If I sell some, I just have to make more.”
His wife, Siggi, helps him too, he added. “My wife is an artist and she develops them,” he said, pointing at the spinning fish, leaves and feathers in the doorway to his shop.
He and his wife spent 30 years of his first retirement fishing out of Garibaldi with a boat named after his wife – the “Siggi G.”
Gierga had the boat built as he changed careers with a first retirement and entered the charter boat business more than 20 years ago.
The couple has lived in Garibaldi long enough to remember when the port and the town was really busy.
Gierga grew up in post-war Germany and came to the United States when Volkswagen offered him a transfer. That brought him to Portland and the Pacific Northwest.
“I have been a machinist since 1953. I started in Germany,” he said. I came to this country in 1960 as a chief mechanic working for Volkswagen.
“I had a factory contract for three years and after three years, they asked me to stay on for another three years. After five years, my wife and I became U.S. citizens. They wanted me to go back to Germany, but I didn’t want to go,” he said. “I stayed with Volkswagen until about 1972, but the job was getting to me, so I quit them.
“The doctor said ‘if you work any longer in the automobile industry, you are going to die soon.’
“I asked him what do you think I should do? He asked ‘what do you like best?’
“I said ‘fishing.’
“We had a charter boat built and I went fishing for the next 30 years,” Gierga explained. He and his wife worked doing commercial fishing and also charter fishing out of Garibaldi. “We did commercial crabbing in the winter months, along with salmon trolling.
It was an easy decision to move to Garibaldi, the Giergas had a house in town already. “We built a cabin in 1968 and then we built a house,” he said. “We still live there.”
In fact, the Giergas have lived in Garibaldi for 50 years.
“It has changed a lot,” he recalled. “When we first moved here, we had two shrimp plants going 24 hours a day during the summer months. We had the mill going – the Oregon-Washington Mill – and we had 25 charter boats on the dock.
“At five o’clock in the morning, you could not find a place in any of the restaurants because they were all filled up with people.
“There were like 1,200 people in town. Now, there is 600 and half of them leave for California in the winter months,” he said.
Although the Giergas have done a lot of traveling, home is still Garibaldi, he explained. “We love it here. We can take our bikes and go off to Hawaii. We both like the Big Island and the Kona Coast,” he said. “We spent some time on Maui and our kids lived for four years on Molokai.
One thing Gierga remembers about Molokai is the wind. “That damn wind. Every day it just blows,” he said, laughing.
Both Gierga and his wife have been cyclists for many years, even competing in cycling races and triathlons.
“We did triathlons for 20 years,” he added.
Looking at the wall of his shop, he pointed to several pictures on the wall. “I was German national champion in 1955 and then again here in America at age 60. My wife, she was a national champion twice in cycling. My son, he was a champion and an elite cyclist.
“So we are really, really active. I walk five miles every other day. I did my five miles just this morning.”
The fact that he was spending a Sunday in his workshop was a little unusual, he explained. “I am helping a fellow out,” he said, pointing at a repaired crab trap. “Usually, I am not working on weekends.”
His work with spinners as well as his old charter and fishing business has brought him into contact with a lot of people, even a television reporter who was recently honored as the Grand Marshal for the Rockaway Beach Fourth of July Parade.
“Grant’s Getaway’s” Grant McOmie has known Gierga and his family for more than 30 years, even spinning one of his stories about the Garibaldi fisherman who now is building spinning fish out of stainless steel.
He and his wife even do their own spinning – three times a week. “We have nine spinning machines at home in the basement.”
The bikes are hand made.
“When I was manufacturing big aluminum stuff, every time I had some extra material, I would build a spin bike. In the meantime, there are nine spin bikes up in our basement. So we have people come in and about three times a week we have two spin classes. My wife teaches one and a friend of ours teaches the other. It is just friends and acquaintances,” he said. “They love it. It is social and a hard workout.”
He added that both his wife and himself have been competitive most of their lives, even when they were in Germany.
“We have been married for 62 years, 62 wonderful years,” he added, proudly.
“We have a busy schedule every day. We get up at four o’clock and watch the sun come up. Yep, life has been good to us,” he said. “We are lucky people. We have had great kids… and great grandkids,” he said.
One of his granddaughters is spending Sundays in the new Port of Garibaldi Farmers Market, selling jewelry, he added.
Years ago, when he was offered a choice of where to move to by Volkswagen, it was a big choice. “I had a chance to go to 130 different countries with Volkswagen. First, we thought we’d go to Canada, then the distributor here (in Portland) sent us brochures of Mt. Hood, Crater Lake and the coast. I thought ‘what the hell am I going to do in Toronto.’
The decision was made. “My wife has always been adventurous,” he added.
Both still are.