By Chris Collins
Robert "Bob" Hereau's 38-year law enforcement career, which ended this spring, began with what might be called a case of mistaken identity.
He says it all started when he was just 3 years old as he sat watching the popular "Texaco Star Theatre" television program hosted by Milton Berle.
It was the uniformed Texaco pitchmen with badges on their chests who caught his attention rather than the comic antics of "Uncle Miltie," the most popular television performer of the day.
"As a 3-year-old, I was attracted by the star and the uniform," Hereau (pronounced hero) said as he patrolled Interstate 84 on May 31, his last day on the job.
Never mind that the men he so admired were portraying gas station attendants advertising Texaco products, not police officers sworn to serve and protect.
Maybe if he'd been a little older and he'd had a better understanding of the sales pitch, his life would have taken a different turn. But then again, maybe not.
According to his 90-year-old mom, Lorey Hereau, who still lives near his childhood home in Wisconsin, the Texaco men were his first attraction to the job that he would dedicate his life to.
"And it never went away," she told her 66-year-old son just days before he retired. "All you ever wanted to be was a state trooper."
Hereau said his mom recalled that as a 3-year-old, he mounted a pop gun on his tricycle and had his six guns strapped on his hip as he patrolled the sidewalks issuing tickets to the neighborhood kids.
"I was ahead of my time," he said. "I had a rifle and my sidearm and I was ready to go out and enforce the law."
His mother became concerned about part of his enforcement efforts, however, when she heard several little girls raising a ruckus in the neighbor's outhouse.
They told Mrs. Hereau, "Bobby arrested us and threw us in jail."
His mother put a quick stop to his practice of outhouse incarceration.
He got a stern lecture about who belonged in jail -and that did not include his neighborhood playmates.
"She said if I took any more young girls to jail I was going to get a whipping," Hereau said. "Everyone was getting tickets from that time on."
His penchant for issuing tickets followed him to Baker City where he spent his entire career patrolling the highways between Farewell Bend and North Powder.
"I write more tickets than anybody," he said as he trained his radar gun on freeway travelers during his last day of work accompanied by a ride-along reporter.
Hereau talked about his retirement plans and his life on the road while parked in a strategic spot southeast of Baker City.
He's seen many changes in his profession and in the equipment he uses to do his job over the years - starting with just a gun and a set of handcuffs - as he's honed the skills that come naturally to him, including his gift of gab.
"I like talking to people," he says. "And there are a lot of people out here to talk to.
"There's no such thing as a routine traffic stop," he cautions. "I want to listen to their story (and find out) why are you speeding on my highway - what's going on here?"
As he worked the road on his last day, people he stopped congratulated him after hearing of his impending retirement, and parted with a smile whether he'd issued them a citation or simply given them a warning.
Denise Erlanger, 32, of Issaquah, Wash., took the news that she'd been traveling well over Oregon's 65-mph speed limit in stride after Hereau activated his lights and pulled her over on the shoulder of the freeway.
"I haven't gotten a ticket in a really long time," she said. "That will be a story to tell."
And while Hereau gave the appearance of engaging in casual conversation as he jotted down information about the drivers he met, that's not exactly what was going on, he says.
Erlanger, for example, said she was driving her mother-in-law's car and was having a difficult time finding the registration.
Hereau said he's "on heightened alert" during traffic stops. He watched carefully as Erlanger reached for the glove box in her search for the registration.
"While you're writing a ticket you have to keep your wits about you and you pay attention to what's going on," he said. "What starts off as a nice, quiet, easygoing contact can turn into a heckuva mess in nothing flat."
It's these daily encounters he'll miss as his career comes to an end.
But Hereau believes his wife, Marilyn, has waited long enough for him to join her as they pursue plans to travel. She retired several years ago from her job as a medical lab technologist.
"There's a big world out there," he said. "There are a lot of exciting things to see and I'm ready to go for it."
And there are the grandchildren: three in Boise with their son, Craig; and two in Portland with their daughter, Stacy.
Although Hereau says he's been in denial, he has to admit that he's grown old on the job.
He applied for Social Security when he turned 65 and he says, "I'm the first Medicare cop the Oregon State Police has ever had."
And like many people his age, he has moved from bifocals to trifocals to improve his vision.
"I've been out here long enough," he says. "This is a young man's job out here - it's time for me to be moving on."
Hereau's law enforcement career began even before he joined the Oregon State Police in 1974.
After graduating from high school in 1964, he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he trained to be a military police officer.
"Before I was out of military police school we started to hear rumbles about a little place called Vietnam," he says.
He spent two years (1965 to 1967) in Japan before returning home to marry Marilyn, his high school sweetheart.
The two first met in band class in Wisconsin where Bob was a drummer and Marilyn played the French horn.
He spent six months in the states after the wedding, and then received new orders sending him to Vietnam, where he spent all of 1968.
He says his company of military police, which served as a detachment on an Air Force base, was the only one to survive the "bloody mess" known as the Tet Offensive. (Beginning on Jan. 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched attacks throughout cities in South Vietnam, breaking the cease-fire called for on the Vietnamese holiday of Tet.)
"Everyone took the Vietnam thing pretty well, except my mom," Hereau recalled.
As a young bride, Marilyn showed the mettle that would serve her well as a police officer's wife as she waited for her soldier husband to return home from the war.
"My wife has been pretty calm," Hereau says. "She absolutely trusts me and has confidence that I can do the job and do it right."
After completing his military service, Hereau took advantage of this military benefits and set out to become the first member of his family to obtain a college degree. He first earned an associate degree in law enforcement from Olympic College at Bremerton, Wash., and then graduated with a bachelor's degree in police science and administration from Washington State University at Pullman.
Despite training that prepared him to advance to a management position, Hereau said he never was interested in an office job.
"I wanted to be Trooper Bob out here on the highway," he said
When he ended his last shift, Hereau entered the OSP record books as the "oldest, most-tenured trooper to ever work the road full time," he says, noting his specific accomplishment to ward off those who say others worked longer or were older when they retired.
He's aware of those "others," but notes that they were administrators, not full-time troopers patrolling the road daily - or in his case nightly. Hereau spent most of his career working the night shift, 4 p.m. to midnight and, most recently, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
And in all those 38 years, and in all kinds of weather, he never crashed his patrol car and never fired a weapon, except to dispatch an animal.
"In all the years I've been out here -I've traveled more miles than anybody - I've had no incidents at all," he says. "What are the odds of that? That's another reason to retire: I'm pushing my luck."
Trooper Bob started the first weekend of his permanent vacation by heading for Portland where he and Marilyn met their oldest granddaughter, who's 17, and boarded an eastbound train headed for Wisconsin to visit their family in the Midwest.
In addition to traveling, Hereau says he plans to pursue his hobbies, which include photography and woodworking.
Still he knows he'll miss the job he's loved all these years.
"There's something big about this serve and protect thing," he said. "I really enjoy it and I'm gonna miss it. But there were good cops before me. There will be good cops after me."