Earl Lowell "Robbie" aka "NO SWEAT " Robbins!
No Sweat is the author of ThesePrecious Days and Nefarious, both novels I have enjoyed reading and highly recommend!
Besides being an Author, No Sweat is a delightful character and has become a fast friend. It is a great honor to discuss writing with No Sweat, his future book releases, and his ideas about living.
No Sweat is accomplished in many areas including: Archaeology, Racing Pigeons, Scuba Diving, Civil War Artifacts, Kentucky Red Agate, Catching Lobsters, Spelunking, Indian Relics, Fossils, Boating, Ernest Hemingway, Old Movies, Photography, Horse Race (yeah, he’s from Kentucky), and much more. He has written a small portion of his life for me to share with you. I know that you will enjoy No Sweat’s story…
Earl Lowell "Robbie / "No Sweat" Robbins, Jr. was born on August 23, 1951 in the Pattie A. Clay Hospital in Richmond, Kentucky USA on a hot summer afternoon and was given up for dead. His mother, Nancy Lou (McClanahan) Robbins had had two miscarriages (dead sons) prior to his birth; she was 19 years old at the time he was born; Robbie was delivered by Dr. Virginia Wallace Lewis; after more than a minute had passed with no signs of life coming from Robbie she slapped him one last time and was astonished to hear him burst out in a loud cry. Robbie's mother always said it was the greatest noise she ever heard in her life.
Dr. Virginia also delivered the famous Irvine, Kentucky movie star, Harry Dean Stanton; she gave him his name saying that he was the hairiest child that she had ever delivered. The Estill County, Kentucky Hospital was named after her. Dr. Virginia became something of Robbie's godmother; she practiced medicine and lived in the apartments beside him; her father had also been a medical doctor in Estill County, amassing large tracts of land during the prohibition. She had a son that was two years younger than Robbie, named, Wallace Scott "Doc" Lewis. "Doc" and Robbie were "brothers" growing up.
Doc and Robbie would often ride along with Dr. Virginia in the back of her station wagon throughout areas of Estill County when she took her days to go out to homes to make house calls. "We'd chase chickens around barns, get tomatoes out of gardens, bust bottles with rocks and make ourselves home in the country," said Robbie. "We got to know everybody and everybody got to know us. Between living with Dr. Virginia and always staying at the theater I suppose just about everyone in Estill County knew who I was. Many of them called me, "that little red headed Callerhan boy. I was very fortunate to have someone like Dr. Virginia half raise me. She always had a bowl of chocolate and cherry ice cream waiting for me when I would watch Disney on their TV. She had the first color TV in the county as far as I know. If I got sick I never waited out in the waiting room like all the other people. She'd always have me brought around through a secret way to her office. She just about delivered everyone in the county. Many people in Estill County were named after her. I went to school with a girl named Virginia Rison. And she had a brother named, Marion. Marion was named after Dr. Virginia's husband, Marion Lewis."
Robbie's father, “Rob,” was born in a tent in a coal mining camp in Harland, Kentucky. His grandparents (Herzig) were immigrants from Austria. He was reared in a divorced family; his father, "RED ROBBINS" played baseball for the Cincinnati Reds minor league but was never brought up to the majors. Rob's mother, Freda, was a telephone operator in London, Kentucky; she also taught a one room school and was a devout Seventh Day Adventist. "I loved her so much," informed Robbie. "She and I would walk all day long along old roads. She was an active member in The Audubon Society and taught me how to identify birds and butterflies. And she was the only person that ever read to me. I still remember her reading certain nature and Bible stories; some were Chipmunk Willie, Joe Joe the Monkey, and The Little Red Hen. She loved people and was exceptionally kind and considerate. She was a tall woman with black hair and dark eyes and always ready to smile or laugh. She always kept a garden while living in a very tiny apartment in London, Kentucky. She died a horrible death having lost all her memory and not knowing who she was. Her favorite meal that she would prepare for me was an old German dish her parents brought over with them, liver and mush. When I would stay with her in the summers she always got me to play the piano in her church. I took piano and trumpet for six years but I was never any good."
At the age of 15, Rob set the local sheriff's house on fire and ran away from home to become a bus boy in a New York night club where Billie Holiday regularly performed. His only brother, Lance Robbins, was two years older him. Lance was a gifted trumpet player and was named the best trumpet soloist in Kentucky two years in a row. Before WW2, Lance was playing his trumpet in nightclubs in Harlem, New York.
During WW2 Rob became a cook in the Merchant Marines and was torpedoed while aboard a "Liberty Ship" in the North Atlantic; he stated that he was reading a funny book at the time of the explosion and that he and the captain were the last two men off the ship. Near the end of the war Rob was arrested for stealing bed sheets off his ship and selling them for a high price in a bazaar in Iran. For thirty days he was imprisoned in Iran with five Gestapo officers and then later he was released and eventually was able to connect back with his ship. Lance fought in the army in the Pacific. Near the end of the war the army tried to get him to go to OTS but he had decided that the military was no longer for him.
After the war Rob traveled to Irvine, Kentucky where he met Nancy; she was age fifteen at the time of their meeting, popping popcorn for her father in one of her father’s movie theaters that was located at the end of the Irvine Bridge spanning over The Kentucky River. The couple was married in an extravagant wedding inside the Methodist Church on Main Street, Irvine, Kentucky when Nancy turned 16 years old and immediately following the wedding they were arrested by local authorities for public disturbance. Their imprisonment made the front page of the local newspaper. Although Nancy had severely suffered from Rheumatic Fever and depression as a child she was a healthy and beautiful girl at the time of her marriage. Her mother, "Momma Mack," told Robbie that the only time she ever saw her husband cry was when Nancy married Rob and the time he accidentally ran over his dog. "Momma Mack was devoted to Daddy Mack," stated Robbie." She worshiped him as much as anyone could be loved. Daddy Mack always called me, Robert. You see, he loved that movie Bird Man of Alcatraz with Burt Lancaster. It was a story about a man named Robert Stroud. Stroud's fellow inmates nicknamed him, Robbie. Daddy Mack did all that in reverse on me. I don't know if he thought I was in some sort of prison but he did know that I loved birds. He was always exceptionally good to my parents and they were always calling on him to fix the plumbing or something else as though he were just some handy man. Daddy Mack didn't drink or curse and I often wonder what he thought about dad. Dad saw himself as Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road."
The first three years of Robbie's life he lived with his parents on the third floor in a small room located in the middle of Irvine, Kentucky in a large hotel belonging to Nancy's father. This hotel is now the center of The Irvine Times Heraldoperations. Eventually Robbie and his parents were afforded a small apartment over top the theater located at 106 Main Street in Irvine, Ky.; it too, was owned by Nancy's father, Russell McClanahan, a retired railroad worker having been head of the "Round House" in Ravenna and later a successful businessman, owning hundreds of acres in timber, a hotel, a good deal of the down town rental property and two city theaters and a drive-in. Russell was better known as "Mr. Mack."
Mr. Mack was very close to Robbie and with him a great deal of the time." He had a gift when it can to machinery and there was not anything he couldn't fix or build." He often told Robbie stories that his grandfather had told him. Mr. Mack's grandfather was Russell Bishop and had been a member of John Hunt Morgan's illustrious confederate Calvary during the Civil War. During Morgan's raid into Ohio, Bishop was captured by the Yankees but soon broke out of prison. And at the end of the war, never surrendered. Robbie's grandfather would spit if Abraham Lincoln's name was ever mentioned as he harbored his grandfather's old feelings about the war. According to Robbie's "Daddy Mack," Bishop had given Morgan all of his thoroughbreds during the war and in the process had lost his horse farm in Versailles, Kentucky.
Nancy began working for her father selling tickets at her father's "lower theater," and Rob began operating a small fruit and vegetable stand located across the street. Rob would make journeys to Georgia to buy watermelons picked out in the field or crates of peaches picked in the orchards and Robbie was often with him on many of these buying trips, sometimes sleeping in the truck on the way. "I can remember us washing off the peach fuzz at the end of the day," said Robbie. "It was heaven to get that itchy stuff off of you. Dad bought peaches at twenty five cents a crate and sold them back home for $2.50. He'd give ten cents for big watermelons and get one dollar for those. When we would come home mother would be playing her Billie Holiday songs on the record player. Mom and dad would dance just for me and I thought it was the greatest thing on earth. After they would quit I'd play my own record, Little Johnny Everything. It was a song about a little boy that visualized that he could be most anything. I've really always only wanted to be one thing, an author."
Five years later after Robbie's birth his parents had a daughter, Earla True, which became Robbie's only sibling; she is currently a senior medical tech at Pattie A. Clay Hospital and still lives in the same apartment in Irvine where she and Robbie grew up; she had one daughter, Mackenzie.
Robbie stated that his mother was very beautiful as he was often told by many people in his home town that they came to the theater not only to see the movie but also to see his mother; according to him she had a wonderful personality and was exceptionally kind and thoughtful. Robbie well remembers the long lines of people that would gather to see many of the movies, particularly any having Elvis Presley and Walt Disney. When the movie The Flim Flam Man was released with George C. Scott there were so many people that packed the theater that many had to sit in the floor of the concrete poured aisles or up along the slope of the stage itself; this movie had been filmed in places near Robbie's home and in one scene showing a vehicle speeding away across the Irvine Bridge, the movie production set actually came into Irvine and filmed the scene in front of Robbie's apartment. Robbie stated that there were so many people that came into town that it was incredible. "Every hollow in the county emptied out in hopes that one of their faces might make it onto the silver screen," he said. "I suppose that singular event left a great mark on me," said Robbie. "For all my life I have wanted to be an author. And one in which writes a book that turns into a movie. It is my dream that a movie be made from a work that I have created about my home."
At an early age Robbie fell in love with the Kentucky River – and the pigeons that lived on the bridge and the many movies that his grandfather played seven days a week. These things were "my back yard" as he described them. Much of his life was spent inside that theater and he came to know movies and movie stars and all the operations that were necessary to operate the "picture show." He often helped his grandfather select and order the movies that would be shown. "Daddy Mack had a set routine; he would show a new western on Saturdays, a scary movie on the late night Saturday show, the biggest hits that were out such as The Ten Commandments on Sundays and throughout the rest of the week, some movie that was average. There were many nights Robbie fell asleep in the theater and he would wake up only to find himself alone; he would then wonder back up the aisle and unlock the front door to go back home to his apartment. Robbie said that he learned to ride his bike going down the aisles inside the theater, that in the winter he sometimes got into snowball fights inside the theater and that his passage of growing up from a child into someone that began to understand life all happened inside that wondrous theater. "It was an arena where anything could happen," he said. "And quite often, did. I saw many bloody fist fights in the lobby, drunks passing out in their seats, girls and boys kissing and things that educated me early in my life. My grandfather was a fairly small man and he packed a lead weighted leather blackjack to keep proper order inside the show. And if that wasn't enough he had a hammer-less Smith and Wesson .38. He built a large balcony inside the theater. He had built this theater converting an old livery stable, and off from the main balcony he built another and separate balcony; if any black people happened to come into the theater he escorted them to that one small particular balcony as that was designed strictly for them. "I liked that balcony," said Robbie. "Actually it was rather unique. You felt like you were in a crow's nest. It was very close to the projection room. It was so high up that you would look at the theater and see all along the ceiling at the same time. If you looked hard enough you could see cockroaches and sometimes bats along that concrete ceiling. Every year that ceiling had leaks as it was a flat ceiling. And every year I would help my grandfather rope up the five gallons of tar that he and I would spread out on the roof during the hot summers. When Daddy Mack died in his bed of heart congestion my mom was holding his hand. She took off his watch and I have it to this day, an old cheap Timex that is priceless. Momma Mack said that she saw an angel standing at the foot of his bed when he died. I told her it had to somehow be his reflection."
Robbie's father taught him how to swim in the Kentucky River when he was very young. Rob threw him out in the green water making him swim or drown. But Robbie's father was an excellent swimmer himself and carefully watched over Robbie. Robbie spent many summer days with his mother and father on the sandy banks of the Kentucky River located near the Ravenna Locks, usually fishing, swimming on logs and diving down for mussels. Robbie stated that they were some of the best days of his life and that the last time he saw his mother alive they were on the fly bridge of his boat and spoke of those very days. Robbie became a good swimmer at an early age and one day at the river decided to see how many times he could swim back and forth without stopping. His mother made him quit after the 70th time. "I always wanted to swim the entire length of the Kentucky River," said Robbie. "From the beginning of it up in Booneville all the way to the Ohio River."
When Robbie wasn't on the river he was usually playing with Doc. When they were not jumping off The Irvine Bridge into the Kentucky River (60 feet in height), they were walking on the railroad tracks down near their apartments. These tracks were located about 75 yards from their homes and lay between them and the river. The tracks were very active with L&N (Louisville and Nashville) trains hauling coal from the mountains. Many times Robbie and Doc would run and hitch rides on the train cars and ride them for a mile or more before jumping back off. "Often those landings were rough," said Robbie. "I busted my knees several times." Sometimes the two boys would lay pennies on the tracks to get them back flattened. And many times they wondered along the tracks with their Daisy BB guns shooting every sort of bird and anything that moved. In the fields surrounding the tracks they often hunted plowed fields and would find Indian relics in the form of flint arrowheads, knives and spear points. Robbie became very interested in these Indian relics and over the course of many years of collecting them assembled one of the best collections in Kentucky, having some 41 rare Clovis points and 50 dovetails, along with stone axes, bone needles, pots, beads, pipes and other objects. His collection was later stolen by a next door neighbor that dated his sister. Robbie and Chesteen (Robbie’s wife) were gone to Florida at the time of the break in. None of the relics were ever recovered. Robbie quit collecting for a long time after that. But about twenty years later at the urgency of his lifelong friend, Alan Jones, he began to search for relics again. This time, not only Indian relics but also, Civil War and Kentucky red agate - the rarest and most valuable agate in the world. Again, over the years, he amassed one of the best civil war collections in Kentucky. No person excavated Camp Nelson, Kentucky as much as he did, finding thousands of relics from the soldiers, taking photographs and movies of his digs while in the field.
At around nine years of age Robbie found himself regularly sitting in an old chair in his apartment next to the few only books in his home writing one page stories to himself. These were usually stories about what he had done that day or the day before. He enjoyed reading them back to himself and sometimes to his mother or Doc. One of his teachers in the fourth grade at Irvine Graded School, Laura Tuttle, would allow him to read his stories aloud in class. In the seventh grade he won a five dollar bill and the honor of having written the best paper in school on the subject, What America Means to Me. By the time he was in the eighth grade he was sometimes writing stories that were over 30 pages. "Between the theater," stated Robbie, "and my own imagination I always ad plenty to write about."
One of Robbie's older best friends was Bobby Hovermale, the young editor of The Estill Herald that worked across the street from Robbie's apartment in the newspaper office; Robbie said that he reminded him of the newspaper editor in the movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Robbie spent many hours in that newspaper office watching people set type; he also stayed inside the dark room watching photographs get developed; photography was an area that always interested Robbie and he later became a good photographer himself. "It’s not so much the camera that a person has," he said. "it is more the person that is using it."
"Bobby Hovermale loved to drink straight whiskey," said Robbie. "He'd come upstairs to our apartment and pour a big one and tell me all kinds of stuff. Sometimes Fred Marcum would be there doing the same thing and between the two of them I was in heaven with all the attention they gave me and all their stories; Fred was a great traveler and adventurer, staying a year at a time in Mexico and all throughout central America. Fred loved doves and he loved my racing pigeons He carried a two shot derringer on him and one day when a red tail hawk was circling high above my flying pigeons he shot at the hawk two times from off the back of our steps that led down out of the back of the apartment. I thought that was great. We never thought anything about shooting guns off from the back of our house. Dad and I were always cracking the back window to shoot at a blackbirds or sparrow that would be about thirty yards away. We'd shoot with Dad's old single shot bolt action Remington .22 that he said he earned when he was a paperboy. When I left home dad had some 80 different guns and rifles in his home. One gun was made especially for him by the same man that made a rifle for the Shaw of Iran. "Dad always loved guns," said Robbie. "During World War Two when dad was on his ship headed back to the states he told me that he went through several hundred duffel bags owned by different soldiers returning from the war. And that he filled up two different duffel bags of his own with nothing but Walther PPKs and German Lugars. He said that the next day the soldiers began noticing their guns gone and raised hell. There was a big search for them, and after nearly a day the guns were found way up inside the hull of the ship where dad had hid them. He never did get caught for doing this. And he often wondered what those two duffel bags of pistols would have been worth many years later if he had been successful."
Sometime around the age of nine Robbie was climbing up in a tree only to have a limb break causing him to fall and hit onto a stump, knocking him out and fracturing his pelvis. When he woke up in the hospital he found Dr. Virginia and his mother at his side. From that day onward he learned to carefully study any tree limbs that he would climb. It wasn't much time later that he broke his leg with a compound fracture at school's recess while playing football. This resulted in his staying in bed with a cast for several weeks; he spent these weeks with his grandfather "Daddy Mack." Every night Daddy Mack came home to give him a silver dollar. When the plaster cast came off he would rub Robbie's back telling him how the day went until Robbie would fall asleep.
Robbie said that Daddy Mack was the best grandfather anyone could have ever had. "He was a humble man and worked constantly and would give anyone whatever they wanted. He had a certain dry humor that stayed with you a long time. It was his way with honesty that boiled me over, particularly about our family and people in general. He was a great observer. He was keen on seeing me going to college. He told me that education was one thing that no person could ever take away from you. Every day he would teach me a new word. I was always proud to be near him and that he was my grandfather. He gave me a feeling of great security."
Robbie was active in his Conservation Club; in the summer he would always go one week to Conservation Camp in Monticello, Kentucky on Lake Cumberland. "I loved that camp because it had fewer constraints on what you did than any of the other camps. And there were always things to do. I learned how to identify trees there. I mostly stayed down on the lake at the area they had reserved for swimming. When I wasn't there I was out in one of their boats or fishing."
Robbie was on his school's Safety Patrol and he was the president of his 4H club having won a county wide 4H talent contest with his reciting of poetry; he was also active in the Methodist church, going to church camps and never missing a Sunday in eight straight years. He became a cub scout and later a boy scout in Troop 144 headed by scout master, Charles Vanhuss. Vanhuss was recognized as a great scout leader instilling skills and pride into every member of the troop. "I knew all my knots, Morse code and could start a fire with one match," informed Robbie. During one week long summer camp Vanhuss had Robbie step up on the table in the large mess hall holding many troops and recite one of his poems that he loved, William Joseph Veters. Vanhuss operated the troop in a strict manner and there were times Robbie felt like he was in the army. Troop 144 won numerous awards as the finest troop in the region. While a cub scout he attended the scout camp, Camp McKee in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. At such time he swam their one mile long distance swim course, becoming the youngest scout ever to do so. As a patrol leader and senior patrol leader in the Boy Scouts he turned in regular reports to his scoutmaster which often lauded his writings. Robbie loved the Boy Scouts, the many long trails he hiked, camp outs and the lifelong friends he made, in particular, Larry Lynch, his best friend, ever. until Larry's sudden and horrible death via of a motorcycle accident below the Clay's Ferry Bridge.
While attending Irvine Graded School, Robbie played basketball for "The Irvine Golden Eagles" with fellow classmates Edgar Rawlins, Don Rasinen, Mark Witt, Ashley Witt, Tommy Whitaker and Gary Stone. Gary Stone also raised racing pigeons and he and Robbie developed a special relationship lasting a lifetime; Gary, a Viet Nam decorated war hero, became a self-made multi-millionaire and also one of America's best racing pigeon fliers in the USA, dominating the races in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Gary, a decorated Viet Nam War hero, became a self-made multi-millionaire and the CEO of his large trucking business, called, TRANS CONTINENTAL SYSTEMS. And it was Gary in his generosity that flew Robbie across the USA many times to visit the best racing pigeons in the nation, sometimes visiting Chic Brooks, Ed Lorenz; and staying at the famous Sion man's residence, the mammoth-sized human and ex-linebacker for the football 49ers, John Garzoli. Robbie and John Garzoli were good friends and corresponded for several years as both loved the Sions which are a family of racing pigeons that originated with a man named Paul Sion that lived in Tourcoing, France. Many days Gary and Robbie spent together with their racing pigeons, playing baseball and riding their bikes back and forth around the coal temples sometimes trying to catch stray pigeons. Robbie remembers the day their basketball team was playing their biggest rivals in Ravenna as that was the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Robbie stated that about the only thing he ever did in grade school of any note that he could remember was getting three different whippings from three different teachers all within the time span of about two hours; such was his rewards for basically talking too much and trying to disrupt the class into laughter.
One night during this time Robbie climbed up a telephone poll and walked out along a perilously high catwalk and with his flashlight captured a lost racing pigeon that was roosting under the Irvine Bridge. This famous pigeon eventually led him to its owner, Charles Heitzman, Jeffersontown, Kentucky, the greatest racing pigeon flier in America; the relationship between the two continued to grow for many long years up until the time of Heitzman's death. Heitzman's father was the founder of HEITZMAN BAKERIES in the Louisville and Jeffersontown, Kentucky areas. Charles Heitzman inherited the business and continued to make it grow and be quite successful. Heitzman's love for racing pigeons was famous throughout the nation and the world. He bought only the best racing pigeons upon which to build his own family of racers. Some of the strains of racing pigeons he bought were Sions and Stassartscoming from Paul Sion in France and Mons Stassart in Belgium. After Heitzman's death, Robbie wound up with all the original correspondence between these men as well as Heitzman's original wicker crates and other items. Over the course of Heitzman's life Heitzman wrote seven books on pigeons and was inducted into the National Pigeon Association's Hall Of Fame.
Heitzman enjoyed Robbie's many stories that Robbie wrote about him in the pigeon magazines. He also liked the patience that Robbie used in order to get quality photographs of his pigeons. Heitzman enjoyed being with Robbie's grandfather and later, Robbie's wife. "Charlie, was most congenial," said Robbie. "He sold birds to movie stars such as Andy Devine and to people all over the world. The Japanese absolutely loved him. He was selling a lot of birds to Japan before World War Two for as much as $500 each. During the war Charlie's son was one of the prominent servicemen involved with racing pigeons, using them as carriers to send messages. At the end of the war, Heitzman wound up with several of the military lofts. These were but a few of the many lofts that he had throughout his gorgeous surroundings off Chenoweth Run Road in Jeffersontown. When Charlie died pigeons were released over his grave." You can find Robbie with Heitzman at this link http://tccloftsionfamily.blogspot.com/2011/06/sions-by-no-sweat.html
One summer when Robbie was around 12 years old a Chinese Junk came up the Kentucky River and docked under the Irvine Bridge for some four months. Robbie played on the boat practically every day that he could. He said it was a wonderful and strange apparition and sent straight from heaven as far as he was concerned; he would later use this event in his book, Nefarious. Robbie also spent many summer nights staying on his grandfather's 42' wooden Cris Craft Cruiser that was also docked under the bridge. When Robbie was on her he said it was always a special feeling. "She was the finest boat on the Kentucky River," he said. "She was loaded with beautiful teak wood and had living quarters and a bunk area along with a head. What more could any boy want."
Every summer Robbie's parents would stay a month on Singer Island, Florida at a hotel known as "THE SAND DUNES;" this hotel is now a condo unit and one of the few old places still remaining intact on Singer Island.. It was during these long summer stays that Robbie fell in love with the Gulf Stream fishing, snorkeling, spearfishing and catching lobsters and body surfing. He loved everything about the sea, its vast mystery, the gorgeous blue water, catching the baby turtles that were hatching, getting coconuts and mangoes to eat, catching the green lizards and running free along the wide stretches of sand dunes. Robbie often spent his entire days spear fishing all manner of fish such as croakers, spade fish, grunts, snappers and cudas near the Palm Beach Inlet pump house; he would bring back a stringer of these fish, clean them and his mother would fry them for their evening meal. Robbie said this gave him a real feeling of being valuable to his family. There was a 70' high tower at the pump house and Robbie always relished climbing it and jumping from it showing off with the friends he made while on the island. That tower is now gone. "I ran around a lot with George Springer that lived on Sandal Lane," said Robbie. "His father was a policeman and a friend of Burt Reynold's father. George had an older brother. When you went into his bedroom the walls were lined with the big turtle shells from the ocean turtles that he had killed and eaten.”
Robbie's father was an excellent shot with a high powered rifle and shotgun and he taught Robbie at an early age how to hunt and fish. He also taught Robbie the importance of keeping your gun clean and well oiled. During the fall and winter hunting seasons they would go into the mountains and hunted squirrels together as well as rabbits and ducks. Every October Robbie's father would travel to Meeker, Colorado where he would stay and live for six weeks shooting mule deer and elk. Robbie said that Rob would normally kill three deer and one elk and bring back all their meat. This meat was always a fixed staple for their family throughout the following year. Robbie's family ate more wild meat than they did tame in his growing up, additionally including doves, quail, grouse, ducks, geese frog legs, turtle, fish, ground hog and rattlesnake. "Mom was a great cook and made everything delicious," he said. Robbie added that curing country hams was a special ritual in his family and that his father always kept two or three around inside their apartment. His mother loved to cook and on a great many occasions the apartment would be completely full of people eating and drinking and telling all manner of stories.
Robbie said that their apartment was normally more like some nightclub than a living quarter. But Robbie loved the atmosphere. It was always lively and full of laughter and it turned a dull confinement into a place of joy. All three of Robbie's uncles liked to drink and tell stories and each were great in their own performances. His mother's brothers, Ralph and Russell. One was a politician, being the county judge four times and also a Kentucky state Representative. The other, Russell, was an artist, painting primarily landscapes and teaching art in a small art school that he maintained. Robbie's father's only brother, Lance Robbins, was a used car salesman and pilot--his plane was used in the movie, Goldfinger ---- and he was also a great trumpet player. Robbie said that Lance's stories were often "raw and sometimes brutally honest but delicious."
Robbie hated it when Lance was murdered. Lance was shot to death on his ninth wedding; he was 61 years old and his wife, Vicky, was 16. "Some of my best memories of Lance were when he'd come to stay the weekend in our apartment," stated Robbie. "He'd bring his trumpet. It wouldn't be long before the whiskey was flowing and he was playing that trumpet. He shook our small apartment with the sweetest trumpet playing you could ever imagine. His being there was better than going to any circus. Dad was always jealous of the attention he got. And to make up for it dad would try to sing. He thought he was a great singer. He really wasn't. But he was a great dancer."
The last four years that Robbie lived in the apartment that he grew up in he slept in a sleeping bag on the floor in the end room. Underneath that floor were his pigeons that he kept. And every morning he said he would awake to hearing their cooing and that it was the best noise in the world. His father never liked his pigeons and was always asking him to be rid of them but his mother would always intervene on his behalf. At around this time Robbie became friends with Otto Meyer after winning the Trenton Breeders’ Futurity and for many years they corresponded up until Otto's death; Otto had been one of the top men in America in WW2 that was in charge of the racing homers that were used in communication for the armed services. In 1967, '68 and '69 Robbie won The Kentucky State Fair pigeon show three straight times, being the youngest person ever to do so. At this time he became a member of The Lexington Kentucky Racing Pigeon Club and established long friendships with Loftus Green, Richard Green, Richard Dzubak and Jimmy Combs. Charles Heitzman donated a trophy for their 500 Mile race and Robbie won it. Robbie flew seven race seasons with the club and was never beaten on any race that was 300 miles or longer; he also won average speed all seven of those seasons. And during this time he won The BlackHawk Futurity, The Conrad Mahr Futurity, The Lexington Kentucky Futurity, The Twin City Gold Band Futurity, The New Orleans Futurity, The Waldo Hotchkiss Futurity and others."Waldo and I became great friends," said Robbie. "He loved the little blue check hen that I sent to him in his race. She was out of my good breeder, "Peg Leg." Waldo said that she was the best racer that he had ever owned."
Throughout Robbie's four years at Irvine High School, class of '69, he wrote stories for America's and England's leading pigeon magazines, THE RACING PIGEON BULLETIN and THE RACING PIGEON; he was also one of the feature writers along with his good friend, Darrell Richardson, on his high school newspaper then a part of the school's journalism class under Miss Leslie Jones, she was Robbie's all-time favorite teacher as she always being witty and liberal. She selected Robbie to be Prince Charming in the school's Latin Play. Besides school, Robbie began to explore the many caves in his area and frequented a cave known as "California Cave" many times. Robbie stated that he remembers finding the cave when he was about ten or eleven years old and going all the way back to its famous "Soapstone Pit” with only a flashlight and some candles alone. It was in several of these caves where Robbie found many Indian burials and their relics. He said that back then he lived during "The golden age of Kentucky archeology" and that what was legal back then is no longer the same.
At age 15, Robbie met a beautiful and brilliant girl with freckles, green eyes and long red hair that instantly stole his heart, Ruth Chesteen Hall, valedictorian of her Ravenna Graded School and again valedictorian of Irvine High School's class of '68. She asked him out on a date as they stood by the school's water fountain and six years later they were the third couple ever to be married inside Eastern Kentucky University's chapel. During the summer of 1969, Robbie's mother began taking him to Lexington to swim for THE GREATER LEXINGTON SWIMMING ASSOCIATION. Robbie began swimming under coach Wynn Paul, the University of Kentucky's swim coach. Wynn Paul worked with Robbie in perfecting his flip turns, racing dives and improving his stroke. "Wynn was very patient with me and without him I would never had made it as a collegiate swimmer."
In July off 1969, Robbie met Jacques E, Piccard while Robbie was in Florida. Piccard brought his crew close to where Robbie was staying. Robbie was allowed to go inside Piccard's underwater mesoscphe, THE BEN FRANKLIN. Rob took several photographs of Robbie and Jacques while they were together. "He was going to explore the Gulf Stream," said Robbie. " and I wanted to go with him. He was very nice to me and excited me with the stories he told."
In the fall of 1969 Robbie entered Eastern Kentucky University, the first person in his family ever to go to college. He had been excavating Indian skeletons in the mountains for several years, having dug out the huge cliff shelter, Granny Richardson Springs, and in another cliff area of Estill County discovered one of the largest Adena pots ever found, several Indian burials in various mountainous locations, and decided to major in anthropology. During this time he submitted a manuscript, ES#1, to the Universities of Kentucky Press . This work dealt with the excavations he had conducted at Pryse, Kentucky at The Susan James Cave over a four year period. Robbie had dug 22 feet deep inside the cave finding nine burials that were C-14 dated by a chemical research plant in Tokyo that dated them 3,100 years BP. The manuscript, ES#1, was accepted for publication under the stipulation that Robbie had to go back over all the work with the guidance of UK's anthropology professor, Lathiel Duffield. Robbie met with Duffield numerous times but time constraints eventually halted progress. Robbie stated that those meetings with Duffield taught him more about real physical anthropology than he learned in all four years at EKU. Robbie did say that he had Professor Larson the only year that he ever taught at EKU; Larson was in charge of the excavations of the Etowah Mounds in Georgia, Robbie enjoyed his class. But for the most part Robbie stated that none of the teachers had anything to offer him as they were all armchair theorist with no real digging experiences. “I was asked to teach in some anthropology classes," stated Robbie. "And I was the person to classify and put monetary values on all the Indian relics that had been donated to the University; these were all later placed in the school's small museum in showcases that were on the fourth floor of the library."
"I was almost kicked out of school in 1969," spoke Robbie. "I led a protest against the Viet Nam War during the ROTC President's Day Parade at Eastern Kentucky University. I wore a black arm band and placed myself on the ground in front of the marching ROTC units. Some of them stepped on me while walking over me. My name was reported to whoever was in charge and the next thing I knew I was asking my swim coach to help me get out of the mess. Don Combs went to bat for me and kept me from being dismissed from College. He struck a deal wherein I had to do all the ROTC laundry for the next full semester. If Don had not stood up for me I would have been drafted as my draft number was very low. If I had goo Viet Nam I am sure my life would have turned out much differently than it has. I have never regretted protesting that war. Looking back I think it was one of the better things I ever did."
Robbie became one of two of Eastern's long distance swimmers for "Eastern's EELS" under the dominant and famous coach Don Combs; being one of the only two native Kentucky swimmers to make Eastern's team; the other distance swimmer was Jay Chanley, Florida, All American. At that time Eastern Kentucky University's swim team was well established as the best swim team in the state and one of the best in America. Robbie loved his coach and attributed this man for preparing him for life more than anyone. At the time Robbie swam for Don Combs he was the only person from his high school in collegiate athletics. Don Combs' father was Earle Combs, a famed baseball player that once played for the New York Yankees, batting on the legendary "MURDERER'S ROW" with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Earle always attended the swimming banquets at the end of the season.
While at EKU Robbie contributed numerous articles for the university's newspaper and his home town's local newspaper, THE IRVINE TIMES HERALD, and to racing pigeon magazines all over the world. On an average he penned 20 letters a day, mostly about racing pigeons. In the fall of 1971, Robbie set a new money winning record with a young racing homer in Minnesota, winning $5,000. He has asked his swim team to bet on his pigeon and when it won he divided all the money between them. For the next year, Robbie was known by his team mates as "Birdie."
In 1971, Robbie's racing pigeons were in the top ten positions in the top ten races throughout the USA. Because of this he was featured in a British publication called, SQUILLS. Robbie attributed his winnings to one pigeon, an un-banded bird, a blue check cock that he named "PEG LEG" because it had caught itself in a steel trap set for rats hurting his leg. Peg Leg proved to be a wondrous breeder. All of his babies were champion racers no matter who he mated the pigeon to. He was a cross of Sion, Stassart, Bastin and Greenshield bloodlines originating from John McQuithy, Jonesboro, Indiana. "John and I were always writing letters to each other. And every day I would receive and write a letter back to my friend, Marty Bacon, Walden, New York. Marty was a wonderful pigeon man and he had a horrible crippling disease."
Robbie was married to Chesteen on January 7, 1973. He and Chesteen moved into a home they had bought located at 516 Poplar Street in Ravenna, Kentucky. It was at the edge of the woods and just down from one of the prominent mountains in the area. They loved their home as it was many times finer than either of them had been raised in, being more spacious and made of brick Robbie planted many trees around the home and it was so grown up that it was hard to see from the road. It was here that Robbie became neighbors with Joe "Lindy" Yeager, retired Strategic Air Command bomber pilot and graduate from West Point. Lindy had had a horrible existence having had his wife commit suicide while he was in SAC. When this happened the Air Force brought him down from the skies and offered him a teaching position at The Air Force Academy. Lindy went to Columbia University in New York to get his Phd in English. But in time his manic depression overcame him. He was given lithium, the first man to ever receive such. And he was made into a long term study by Dr. Eng, his psychiatrist. "Lindy was brilliant," said Robbie. "He was my best friend, ever. It hurt me tremendously when he finally committed suicide. It was Lindy that gave me the encouragement I always needed to be a writer. He was a great Hemingway reader. Almost too much so. It was him that led me to Guy Davenport. When Lindy died I bought his home and later re-sold it. I still have all of his West Point and SAC objects; his two sons didn't want anything of his. Lindy was a good friend of Walter Tevis, a Professor at Ohio University and the author of The Hustler, The Color of Money, The Gambit’s Queen and The Man Who Fell to Earth, as well as many other stories and books that were made into movies. Walter Tevis had taught English at my high school in Irvine. But as the story goes my high school principal got rid of him saying he didn't know anything about English. Walter is buried less than a mile from where I live. I find it remarkable that in Kentucky his name is rarely mentioned when people speak of authors. In my opinion he may have been the most talented of any writer that ever lived here. Besides Guy Davenport, Lindy introduced me to Marsha Norman. I kept up a correspondence with her for a while as well as with Robert Penn Warren. Both were Kentucky Pulitzer winners."
David Cox, manager of WIRV, Irvine's radio station, was also one of Robbie's Ravenna neighbors. Dave was brilliant in communication and electronics, they were always his passions; he understood Robbie's desire to be an author and the stories that Robbie wrote. He would prove to be a solid and positive influence on Robbie's writings, always giving him steady praise and re-reinforcement. "Dave and I remain close to this day," said Robbie. "I value his friendship and open mind. Dave and I had some great times when we campaigned for a friend named Larry Kelly. Dave was with me all throughout my creation of my first novel, These Precious Days published by a wonderful editor named Rudy Thomas, Old Seventy Creek Pass.
Robbie built a beautiful two-story pigeon loft behind his house in Ravenna and continued with his racing pigeons and going to graduate school working on an MA in sociology while his wife began her career as a science teacher at the Estill County Middle School In 1974; she eventually became the principal of the same school and remained there as such until retiring. In 1974, in a three way race, Robbie ran for Mayor of Ravenna on the "Ravenna For Progress" ticket. "I finished second," said Robbie. "The other two tied for first."
During the same year, Robbie his van drove to New York to The National Racing Pigeon Show at The County Center Building in in White Plains and won it, he became the youngest fancier ever to do so, a record that still holds. The man awarding him the honors was Dr. Jams Carbone, a close friend of Frank Sinatra's; the two had grown up together in Hoboken, NJ. That summer Dr. Carbone contracted to buy baby pigeons from Robbie and with the money Robbie and Chesteen spent their first of many three month stays on Singer Island. While staying there Chesteen and Robbie took a few days to drive and stay at Key West. They stayed at The Southern Cross Hotel and visited Hemingway's home, Sloppy Joe's, Captain Tony's, Fort Jefferson and The Audubon House. It was here where they began eating their first Cuban food of black beans and yellow rice and fried plantains, which they loved. Both fell in love with the Keys and over the course of many years continued to dive and fish there many different summers. Robbie was with Mel Fisher's mother on the memorable day the famous Spanish galleon, The Atocha was discovered. He said that he was with her when she got the phone call of the discovery and that he will never forget the excitement she revealed to him the moment she hung up. It was an odd event for Robbie as he had tried several different times over the years to get a job with Mel Fisher as one of his divers; this was long before the Atocha was discovered.
In 1975, Robbie's father owned a small liquor store, The "T & R" on East Irvine Street, Richmond, Kentucky, and the man that Rob had operating it for him had quit. Rob asked Robbie if he would come to work for him running the store and that if he did he would allow Robbie to continue to have his three months off in the summers to stay in Florida. Robbie had finished 24 hours of his graduate school and his thesis that was on the people who made up the racing pigeon culture in America had been approved. Robbie thought the he could later finish his MA and went to work for his father. It was here in this dirty, old, small store where he began to know the liquor business and all the great many bootleggers that came to his store from the southern and eastern parts of Kentucky where liquor of any kind was illegal. Robbie said that it was here where he began to write stronger stories coming more from his heart .When nobody was in the store he often sat alone in a chair and would write as much as possible, sometimes being yelled at by his father. "It was here," Robbie said, "that I became a real writer. In that dark back room I began to write all sorts of stories, some of which are now in Black Bluegrass.”
In the spring of 1977, while his musket team was shooting at Cassius Clay's home outside of Richmond, Kentucky, Alan Jones, Winchester, Kentucky, asked Robbie if he would join their musket team, the 9th Kentucky, and become a member of The North South Skirmish Association. Robbie joined the team and made the cut off to be on the A-Team, competing at the National in Shenandoah, Virginia. Robbie remained on this team shooting an original 1855 model Springfield musket until three years later when he joined the 11th Indiana. "I joined that team as they were some of the very best musket shots in the nation, finishing in the top ten out of several hundred teams competing," stated Robbie. "I became close friends with all the guys on the team and one summer they along with their wives all stayed with Chesteen and me in our large room at The Colonnades Beach Hotel on Singer Island.
That entire summer was one big party. Sometimes we'd go over to Peanut Island and hang out inside Kennedy's fall out bunker. Back then we'd go along an old trail through the pines and enter into the bunker through a small silo that stuck out. It was Kennedy's place to stay in in case the Cuban Missile Crisis went bad. We were constantly scuba diving, cooking fish and lobsters and drinking like there was no tomorrow. When The Key Cove was torn down Chesteen and I began staying up the street at The Colonnades. We stayed there until it closed. My family was the last family ever to check out of that glorious old hotel that was owned by John D. MacArthur. John D. and I had rooms next to each other for three different summers. I got to know him exceedingly well. Every summer I would bring him down country hams and moonshine and every summer he let Chesteen and I stay in any room that was in the hotel complex. John D. MacArthur was a billionaire, the richest man in the USA at one point. He often sat with Chesteen and I when we would be eating breakfast, sometimes reaching over to take a piece of our food and throw to his pet ducks that wondered all over the place. When we went to the bar he wouldn't let us pay for a drink. He was always bragging on how beautiful Chesteen appeared. And if she was smart, she would dump me and marry him."
In the fall of 1977 Robbie was judging The National Young Bird Show in Louisville, Kentucky. He awarded "BEST IN SHOW" to a lace black check cock bird owned by Jim Isselhardt of Bellville, Illinois. Robbie was impressed with Isselhardt's pigeons and told Jim that he believed his pigeons would score well on a national level. Jim took Robbie's advice and eventually became the premier showman in America. Robbie and Jim became exceptional friends and for a decade went to shows together and competed against each other. "It was the greatest period of showing racing homers in America's history," stated Robbie. "We had by far the most entries exhibited by the most fanciers ever in American history. At no time where Jim and I showed our racing homers did anyone beat the two of us. Jim remains a wonderful friend of mine although he has now gotten away from pigeons. He has forgotten more about showing than the top five current showmen will ever know. I always enjoyed competing against him as in Jim I had another showman that was just as savvy as myself. He knew all the angles and he honestly had tremendous pigeons that he had bred and conditioned. He had gotten his birds basically from Al Becker which was also a tremendous racing pigeon fancier. Jim had a brother that was killed by a train at about this time. I had bought 20 birds from him around then, basically the same blood that Jim had. I owned those birds one day and that was it. During the night a boy broke into my loft and stole every pigeon that I owned. Several months passed by before I found out who did it. When I went to his place I found three of the birds. Their bands had been cut off and he was feeding them bread crumbs out in a barn. I took him to court over the theft but I never got anything back. I've had everything I have ever owned stolen from me, except Chesteen."
On December 26th, 1977, after being in bed at the University of Kentucky hospital for 31 straight days due to complications regarding her pregnancy, Chesteen gave birth to Nancy. "The snow was about ten feet deep that day," said Robbie. "It was one of the worst winters in Kentucky's history." Nancy became the only child born unto Robbie and Chesteen. Nancy, a red head, like her parents, became a voracious reader and ranked nationally as high as anyone could go. She went to a school in Richmond, Kentucky called Model; the same school where Wal