Bob Allen and his dog “”

Looking Back with
Bob Allen

by Bill Weaver
photo by George Bredewater

Bob Allen grew up in southern Brown County, his family settling down in the late 19th century when his grandfather moved up from Mitchell. He still owns the family spread near Christiansburg. “I’ve moved fifty feet in my lifetime,” he says drolly. “Very adventurous.”

In fact, Bob is an adventurous man but it takes a little while to find that out.

Allen was a bit of a scamp as a boy, skipping school when he could get away with it. “I tried to run away but I didn’t have sense enough to go out the back way and hide in the woods,” he says with a laugh. His mother would make sure he got off to school every day but his arrival was problematic at best, despite his uncle being principal of the school. “I could catch a bus or walk a mile. If I walked I was my own boss. I’d get there at noon or so,” he shrugs. “The more you study the more you know, the more you know the more you forget, the more you forget the less you know, so why study?”

“I think things were much nicer when I was a kid. There was plenty to eat most of the time. A big garden, a milk cow, which was the income. We sold cream. Fed the milk to a pig, or calves. I think the old cream check ran all the way from a dollar to twenty-five cents. A calf maybe brought ten or fifteen bucks. My mother and I probably had 50 dollars a year total income for a few years.”

Despite his scholarly habits Allen graduated from high school and then worked in Columbus until drafted into the service during the Korean War. “I went to the Army for a couple of years, which changed the whole scheme of things. It taught me to smoke. They got me started and now they’re trying to tax me into quitting.”

Korea was “like taking a sleeping bag and going out and spending the winter in the State Park, except it gets a little colder in the winter and a little hotter in the summer.”

Then Allen worked in Nashville at Black Lumber Company. “I told JB Black one day that I was going to quit. He said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m not going to work here.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you go to IU, talk to Dean Sikes and maybe you can go to school. If you do that I’ll give you a job here in the summers, all the work you want. Then let you work weekends through the winter.’ So I went to IU. I got a degree in business and economics.

“They were short of teachers here. I knew the superintendent of schools real well. He kept begging me to teach school. I finally got hungry enough and decided okay, I’ll try it for a spell. They were a bunch of older kids in the eighth grade in Helmsburg, pretty ornery. First day I threatened them with bodily injury and all sorts of things. Quieted down but once I had them quiet I didn’t have any idea what to do. I hadn’t planned that far ahead,” he laughs. “We finally got something worked out. I taught two years. In the summers I worked for Carl Carpenter.”

Carpenter was a forester and a land surveyor. “The forestry work is what I liked,” he says. “We planted trees all over southern Indiana.” One day Carpenter decided he’d rather be in the real estate end of the business. “I finally got a license of my own,” Allen says. He then ran for county surveyor, winning because “they didn’t like the guy that was running against me.” He held the job for the next 28 years. “I probably could have made a lot more money if I’d never been county surveyor but money has never been very important to me. It was fun. A good way to make a living.”

Allen developed an interest in sailing after a jaunt on Lake Lemon. Soon after he sailed to the Bahamas. “It’s a twelve hour trip—it takes a little longer if you miss it,” he says straight faced. “I spent three months on that boat that time. I also made three or four trips to the Everglades and 10,000 Islands, Lake Huron, and then charter boats in the Bahamas.”

He’s spent time poking around the coastline of Alaska, curiosity drawing him up and down the many inlets and fjords of that magnificent landscape. His ambition is to visit Australia. “I’ve never been south of the equator,” he says. “I’m a little afraid to go because I’d probably get turned around if my shadow were on the wrong side of me. I’d never find my way back.

“I haven’t had a very interesting life,” he laments. “Very dull, so far. I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”