A quiet man with a big story
Born: 1/4/1931 at Havre de Grace hospital Interviewed: 9/27/2016
Raised in the long-gone, small ‘village’ of Lapidum located on the Susquehanna River just north of Havre de Grace, Bob Wood shares stories of growing up poor but still having a good life. He talks of early jobs, ice skating on the river, the somewhat isolated childhood growing up in a village of about 25 homes, and early school years in a class of about 13 kids.
Bob introduces himself with, “You’ve never met anybody who had a life like I had… and still have…” He certainly proves it in the next couple hours that we chat.
He’s a Korean War Combat Veteran, married three times, and careers that included mechanic, bricklayer, management, and owning a commercial contracting company. He’s owned and piloted three planes.
He shares amazing stories that include his military experiences, a couple Bermuda Triangle incidents with his plane, placing an ad for a first mate/wife in a sailing magazine, and so much more.
His boat, named Hummer, has a life nearly as colorful and expansive as his own. It was sold to an organization in Tacoma, Washington that used it to teach disadvantaged youth how to sail and to learn about the ocean and our environment. Later, Capt. Mark Schrader refitted the boat and renamed it, Ocean Watch and took her on an epic journey. Here’s an excerpt from the book “One Island, One Ocean – Ocean Watch and the Epic Journey Around the Americas”, published in 2011 by Weldon Owen Inc.
In the realm of ocean exploration, there are not many “firsts” still to be accomplished. But Mark Schrader has achieved one. He skippered Ocean Watch as the first-ever continuous, west-to-east circumnavigation by sail of the American continents. On this epic journey, he invited journalists, educators, and scientists to join him, and together they documented and reported on the condition of the Western Hemisphere’s precious ocean systems and the coastal residents who depend upon them. … David Rockefeller, Jr. of Sailors for the Sea
As he mentions, he stays busy and doesn’t let any grass grow under his feet. This self-taught engineer is still creating solutions to needs in his home and he enjoys working in his shop.
Here are some photos of the beautiful home he built and now shares with his wife, Jeanne.
This excerpt is 15 minutes or so of nearly 1-1/2 hours. Enjoy! Be sure to visit our website SUBSCRIBE PAGE to subscribe to our weekly podcast newsletter and for details for our paid subscription giving you 2 full-length audios and transcripts each month. Thanks. Til our next chat….
Born: 1/4/1931 at Havre de Grace Interviewed: 9/27/2016
You’ve never interviewed anybody who has had a life like I’ve had…. And still have it. I’ve been very, very busy. You name it I’ve done it.
I don’t know a lot of people in town, even though I’ve lived here all my life, born up in the country, went to school in Havre de Grace, went in the service and everything.
I was born in a place called Lapidum. I went to grade school there for 7 years, right across the street from the road – dirt road. Then I went to Havre de Grace High School for 4 years. The last year was 11 years at that time. I was the last student to finish High School in only 11 years. I graduated in 1947. It was unheard of at that time.
(Were you born at home?)
No, I was born in the old Havre de Grace Hospital with Dr. Foley, the physician. (When it looked like a big house.) Yes.
After I graduated from high school, I knocked around for a year. My Mother signed my papers for me to go into the military. I was in the Air Force for four years.
(As a child, … I’m after stories of what your childhood was like…)
Well, when I was a kid, I had a knack for doing mechanical things. I was mechanically inclined. I re-built a porch on our house and poured concrete. I was only 14 years old at the time. As far as entertainment I went ice skating in the winter time. Of course, we shoveled snow until I think we wore our shovels out.
In the village, I call it a village, there was only one guy who had a telephone. And he had a car and we had a car – only 2 cars in the whole village. We bought the car in Aberdeen at the Ford garage there on Bel Air Avenue. It’s no longer there now. We paid $600 for it. And money was tight then!
We didn’t have much money, very poor. But we ate well. I lived with my grandfather and he was a commercial fisherman. He helped raise me because my mother was divorced. I didn’t know my father when I was a kid. I had half-sisters, but I was 26 years old before I learned about them.
(How many people lived in that area then?)
We had a post office there. The canal used to run up there. We had a stable for the horses. They changed the horses there. My father had a bakery there. My grandfather had a grocery store with an apartment above it. I’d say there were 25 houses there – at least 25.
I went ice skating in the winter time – out in the river. But the winters were COLD – we’d have ice that was 3 feet thick out there in the river. You could walk on it, I mean you could drive a car on it and everything, that was not too many years ago. Way back, they laid railroad track on the ice.
(In the military were you mostly in the states?)
I’m a Korean War Combat Veteran. The war started on a Thursday, and two days later I was there because I was already in the Philippines waiting to come home. We got a Truman year and that put another year on me. I was laying on the bunk waiting to get on a ship on a Monday morning. The first sergeant came in and tore y papers up. I said, “What are you doing.” He said, “Go get your tools, you’re going to Korea.” In about 14 hours we were there.
I had some good times there. But, ah, I seen a lot of death… a lot of death. I seen more people killed overnight than the average undertaker sees in a lifetime. They were all the enemy; most of them were the enemy. But I had some good times there.
I did a lot of flying. My plane, well, I wasn’t a pilot then, we flew our wounded out and ammunitions back in. We were constantly flying from Japan to Korea, which was a fairly short hop. I spent the coldest winter that I’ve ever spent – 25 below zero and the wind blowing about 90 mph.
The Chosin Reservoir was where all of our GIs got killed. At that time I got to fly in the airplane – the last to leave the combat area with our wounded people. We were overloaded, taking off on a dirt runway. I remember this like it was yesterday. The Chinese were coming across the field at us. The only reason the Chinese didn’t catch us is because we were riding and they were walking. … Boy, that brings back memories…
See, all our planes back then were all propeller driven. When I was in the Philippines, I had the distinction on the engine crew of putting the first jet planes that were shipped over on a ship, they came in 3 parts – engine, fuselage, and wings. We put them together at Sangley Point Naval Station and we’d fly them to Clark Field, 60 miles away.
One thing I did there, these jets had intakes on both sides of the fuselage. We would have to run the engine up to a certain speed and then set the carburation of it, the fuel flow. That was very time consuming. You have to run it up. Stand there and see what the gauges read. Then crawl back in the hole and screw it up or down.
So I said, “Wait a minute, now. Let’s do this different. I’m gonna crawl in the hole and you run the engine.” And that’s what I did. I crawled in the hole. And we were puttin’ them out then, boy!!! So maybe my hearing is not as good. (Laughter)
(After the war, Bob married his first wife. At one point early in their marriage of 34 years, he was laid off his job. He was building a house here in Havre de Grace and didn’t want to accept another location. Here’s that story.)
We were building a house then. I wasn’t going to move any place. So I went to learn a trade. Docy Green was a brick layer. I said, “Docy, I want to learn how to lay bricks.” He was working on a house and hired me right then. We finished that house and another house. Of course, then I was out of a job. So then I ran around, different places, learning brick laying.
(Docy was a brick layer besides having the drug store? )
Yep – very good brick layer, he was one of the best (Brick layers)!
I continued my own business for the next 40 years. In the late 60s we were the largest commercial contractor in Harford County with 74 employees, HAR-CE Construction Incorporated. We worked in five states. Six girls worked in the office. We did all government work – federal, state, county. I loved to bid jobs that nobody else wanted. We bid the hard jobs, really hard jobs. We did a lot of hard work. But we made money – a lot of money.
( I know you had a sailboat and then you had a plane.)
I had three airplanes.
The first airplane was a Tri Pacer – a cloth airplane – back in the 50s. I rebuilt it half way through, put new fabric on it. I did that myself. Also in my house, I built an airplane underneath in the wintertime – an ultralight. I had it inspected by the FAA and the guy said “it was the best airplane he’d ever seen.” Homebuilt!
(You just learned about the first two planes Bob had. The third plane was a Mooney Executive. We didn’t have time to share the Bermuda Triangle incidents and a little more of the stories with that airplane)
I liked to fly when the weather is real bad. I know what I’m doing and everyone up there knows what they’re doing. But in the nice weather, you have the Sunday pilots, and he don’t know what he’s doing, I don’t want to be around that guy.
Then I bought a twin-engine Piper.
(Bob built a boat he named “Hummer”. Like all things Bob does, this boat also has quite a story. From being built at his home on the shores of the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace, it was later sold and used to teach sailing skills to underprivileged youth in Washington. Later, refitted and renamed “Ocean Watch”, she made a record setting, first ever, continuous west-to-east circumnavigation by sail of the American continents. Visit our blog for more details.
(On a more personal note, listen to the unique method Bob uses to find a first mate and second wife.)
Getting back to the boat! I built a boat to retire on and to sail around the world. I put an ad in a sailing magazine – one ad:
I put an ad and everyone criticized me for it but it said:
64’ sailboat, planning on sailing around the world, would like to have a first mate sail with me; she must be able to have a child. (I had no children!) You know, I must have had 25….26 replies. To make a long story small, I interviewed probably 8 of them.
So one day, I get this letter – no, phone call – no I think it was a letter. She said, “I’m in Singapore. I’ve been sailing around the world taking hops. I’m in Singapore. I’m going to fly to Australia, Then to see my relatives in New Zealand and then …. I’ll call you from there.”
She called and told me she didn’t have any money, but I’d like to come meet you. Airplane ticked was 700 bucks. I sent her $700 and she arrived 35 hours later.
So I met her at BWI. I had a sister at the time that lived in Baltimore. She stayed at my sister’s. She was dead tired and wanted to sleep. I went down to the boat yard. My boat was in dry dock, you had to climb up to get in. I went back to pick her up and we went to the boat. I said, “Climb aboard!” Well, she stayed. I have two children. She climbed aboard and we were together ever since. Her name was Jane.
(Just a note: You’ll hear a date of 1999 for when Bob began building “Hummer”. This is corrected later. He actually began building in 1979 and launched her in 1986.)
I started in the shop December of 1979 – inside work. I worked on it 6-1/2 years and 7,000 man hours. It was 64’ sailboat with everything on it! It had central vacuum to clean the floors, had carpet, could sleep six people, a water purification plant, a propane gas tank, a 5-burner gimbal stove (the kind that rocks back and forth), had a pretty table in it.
I’m going to stop and share a little bit…
My wife now… we found out where the boat is now… the kids found. We had a chance to go to Tacoma, Washington where the boat was anchored to take a ride on it. That table that I had built, all this time now, this table was exactly as the day I built it. It was in perfect shape. Unbelievable! I couldn’t believe my eyes. It hadn’t been refinished or anything. Unbelievable! Of course, they made some changes to the boat because of its use – using it to take kids out into the ocean, teaching them how to sail and about marine life, etc. We spent two days there. They were disadvantaged children and it was free to them. There were about 15 with us and they all had a chance to sail the boat!
(Now you could sail this on your own?)
Oh yes, I built her to be able to sail her myself. Oh yes, I had 120hp motor, a generator, 3 different electrical systems, enough fuel that I could have crossed the ocean to England. It was steel – 40 ton steel.
I’m a self-taught engineer. I don’t say that lightly. If someone tells me I can’t do something, big mistake.
The guys over at the Legion, every Saturday morning they’d come down. Every day I started work on the boat early. They’d park out in their pick-up truck watching me working. I never did find out who owned that pick-up truck. They’d have a bottle and start passing the bottle around.
After the bottle was about shot, they’d start getting mouthy. “Ah… that boat’ll sink, the rear-end is going to be down, the bow will be up….” I just said, “Don’t worry about it.” So I proved ‘em wrong.
(So when did you move down here – 300 Warren St – on the water between the American Legion and Tidewater Grille)
Well, when we were in Bermuda, she said she didn’t want to live in the apartment any more. So I said, “Well, we build a house.” So while I was in Bermuda, I built a scale model of the house that I wanted to build. Even had stilts on it, little dowels, it was perfect, like the roof is and everything. So I had an idea and showed everybody. I started on that right away.
(Not too many years ago…)
I’m looking for another lady. You shouldn’t live by yourself.
I got on the internet, but was discouraged and about ready to give up. I couldn’t find anybody I was interested in. Then one night a picture comes up. I think she looks really nice. So I get on the screen and say, “want to meet?” She says, “Yeah, I want to meet.” She was from Delaware. I met her at a restaurant, shared a glass of wine. I told her I wanted her to come visit me. She said she’d have to think about it.
In the meantime one of her relatives is a professor at the Univ. of DE. She looks me up and gives her the ‘ok.’ Then she calls her son. She has four sons (the youngest just had a birthday and he’s 50). The youngest gives her the okay. Then she calls her oldest son. He tells, “Well look mom, go down and leave your suitcase in the car. You look around and decide.” She came down and is wide-eyed. I ask her, “What do you think?” ……….
(Alright! The rest of this interview will be included in our full-length paid program along with more great stories from Bob Wood.)