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Painter toils for nearly 70 years in Pa.

August 27, 2000

Painter toils for nearly 70 years in Pa.



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The Great Depression was going into full swing in 1932, the year Wilbur Burger dropped his books in the eighth grade and picked up a paint brush.

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Sixty-eight years later "Wib" Burger, as most people know him, is still wielding his paint brush, only now he's doing so part time.

Burger, 82, of North Carlisle Street, said he has no idea how many barns, farm buildings, houses and roofs he has painted over nearly 70 decades.

In the good months he painted outside. Painting and wallpapering rooms indoors kept the money coming in during the winter.

At age 14, he dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help his father, Milford S. Burger, paint houses and farm buildings. His father had started the business in 1913.

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"It was in the Depression and I had to help out at home," he said. "I didn't know what else to do. The wages for painting were about the same as shop wages and Dad needed help," he said.

Joining his father turned out to be the right choice for the rest of his life. "I always wanted to be out in the sun. I would have been cooped up all the time working in a mill."

The Burgers painted under the name M S Burger and Son.

Milford Burger died of a stroke at age 67.

"He painted up to a couple of weeks before he died. He got his first Social Security check on the day he died and never even got to cash it," Wib Burger said.

"After he died I had to hire four men to work on the barns we had to paint," he said.

The techniques of house painting haven't changed much since Burger started. The banning of lead paint was the most significant change.

In the old days, Burger said, he mixed white lead with linseed oil to paint the outside of buildings. Inside it was white lead and turpentine. He mixed his own colors.

"Dad and I painted a lot of buildings with lead paint," he said.

He uses oil-based paint for exterior work and water-based inside, he said.

He used to make his own wallpaper paste by mixing regular baking flour with water and a little alum.

"We'd mix it the night before and let it sit overnight to set up. The paste would always turn sour if there was a thunderstorm at night and we'd have to mix a new batch in the morning. I never knew why that was," Burger said.

His favorite brush is a Wooster brand with China bristles. "The bristles come from hog hair," he said.

Heights never bothered Burger.

"I've got pictures of him painting on a three-story building, said his wife, Iva.

"I guess I was born to be a painter," Burger said. "Several of my uncles were painters, too. Uncle Shurg Burger was climbing 40-foot ladders when he was 90 years old. I don't climb any more," he said.

The only time Burger stopped painting was during World War II Army service. He fought in Europe with an artillery outfit and earned five battle stars.

He picked up his brush again as soon as he got home. "I've never done anything else but painting and I've been happy doing it," he said.

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