Carl and Frances Metzler: Volunteers of the Year

August 23, 2012 

For the last 12 years, Carl Metzler, 83, has been a fixture of the print shop at Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park and even came close to losing his life doing so. Because of his dedication, Carl and his wife Frances, 80, who has been joining him in the print shop since the accident, have been named Volunteers of the Year by the Sierra Historic Sites Association. The couple will ride in the Mountain Heritage Days Parade on Sept. 15.

"Carl's courage and their devotion to Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park are unmatched and will be remembered as we celebrate them on this Mountain Heritage Days weekend," said Phyllis Campbell, publicity chairperson for the historic sites association.

Printing is second nature to Carl who began working at a print shop in high school. Even before that, Carl was involved in the business from his first job selling newspapers and magazines. He was so young he said he couldn't even count money and didn't realize he owed people change until his first customer gave him too much money and his mother told him he had to run back and give her change back. He was later a carrier and printer's devil.

During high school he worked at Douglas Air Force Base, assembling airplanes. High school students could go to school for four hours, only studying the bare essentials, and then work for four hours as an assembler for the war effort.

It was during those high school years that Carl and Frances met -- he was a senior, she was a freshman. Frances had gone to a Catholic school youth group that her sister frequented and before they knew it, Carl's brother and Frances' sister and the two of them went everywhere together.

When asked if it was love at first sight, Carl laughingly replied, "I was a senior with a car."

Carl graduated in 1947 and went into the United States Navy in March of 1948 where he was an aerial photographer. He was stationed out of San Diego, but did two tours of Alaska and one detachment in Pensacola. It was Frances' senior year in high school when she came down with rheumatic fever and was bed bound for four months. Every weekend Carl would drive up from where he was stationed at Miramar Naval Base in San Diego to Redondo Beach, just to keep Frances company. She was finally healthy enough to get out of bed in December and the two were engaged in February and married Sept. 16, 1950.

Carl was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1952 and went back to printing, working at a commercial shop in Los Angeles. He also worked for 10 different newspapers in his life and just about every job there was in the printing business. Later, he and Frances opened up a mom and pop printing shop, which they worked for 20 years.

"When you've got six kids, you've got to work more than one job," said Carl, laughing.

On July 4, 1989, the Metzler's moved from their longtime home in Torrance to Bass Lake.

When Carl heard about a weathered, old printing press that had been donated to Fresno Flats, he volunteered his time to work on it and soon had it running. Before he knew it, he was spending 50 hours a month at the historic park, teaching school children about printing on the 1908 Platinum Press.

It was a cold day on Oct. 22, 2009, when Carl headed down to work at the park so he turned on a propane space heater to warm up the drafty building. While distributing ink at the press, he accidentally backed into the heater and his clothes ignited. Because he was wearing suspenders, he couldn't easily get his clothes off. By the time he did, he had second and third degree burns over 30% of his body. Fortunately someone was cleaning acorns off the roofs at the park and called 911. Carl says he doesn't remember the next month that was spent in an induced coma and doctors didn't know if he'd make it. They had to take skin off his back and graft it onto the back his legs, down to his knees. He was in the intensive care unit at Community Regional Medical Center for four weeks, and then had to wear a compression garment covering his entire body for almost a year.

Still today, Carl says it feels like he's sitting on a sunburn but he's just thankful the flames stayed away from his face. He doesn't blame the park for the accident, he blames himself.

Even after the traumatic experience and suffering multiple other health problems, Carl soon returned to the historic park.

"Seeing as how they've got that press and I got it running, I felt dedicated to keeping that print shop running," Carl said.

However Frances won't let him go alone and now accompanies Carl to the print shop. Frances says it's both mental and physical therapy for him to be there.

"They're always there and I don't see how in the world he survived that," Campbell said.

The Metzlers say the reason they volunteer so much time to the park is because they like history and they want to share with children what their ancestors went through and remind them of what things used to be like.

"It's something they've never seen and never will see again," Carl said.

Frances said the children really enjoy the linotype and one little girl even said it was faster than her computer.

"Many a weeks we spend a lot of time down there and nobody knows we're there," Frances said.

"I'll probably be buried with some of the lead," Carl said.

Carl will be at the print shop for Mountain Heritage Days Sept. 15 and Frances is also organizing a quilt show for the event. Frances is also second vice president of the association. The Metzlers said they were both surprised when they found out they were this year's Heritage Days volunteers.

"It was a great honor that they, of all the people that help out, chose to honor us," Frances said.

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