FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Bob Hilton calls himself “a great story collector.”
The Frederick resident has been a farmer, foundry worker, construction laborer, Marine, police officer, insurance agent, private detective, lumberyard manager, newspaper columnist, building contractor and real estate agent.
At 78, Hilton has penned and self-published “All the Way Home,” which he calls “a 20th-century American love story in black and white and Marine green.”
The book is a combination of his own life, as well as the experiences of others, often told with the names changed to protect their anonymity.
It wasn’t easy to write the book, Hilton said, because some of the experiences are painful, even after many years.
Hilton grew up in Annapolis Rock, a small community at the Howard and Montgomery County line.
He got his first job while attending Annapolis Rock’s one-room schoolhouse.
“I was in the fifth grade. We had an old stove. I got paid 50 cents a month as a ‘fireman.’ I would come in a half-hour early and start the fire in the stove. I shared the job with my cousin David Mullinix. We took turns starting the fire or bringing in the coal for it.”
One morning Hilton arrived early at the school to find an inebriated man in the school asleep on the floor. The man woke up and grabbed Hilton, telling him to get the fire going because it was cold.
“I was so frightened I couldn’t do anything. Then the schoolteacher came in, saw what was going on and began beating the man with a broom. I grabbed the poker to the stove and started beating him, too, and he soon cleared out of the school.”
After that, Hilton said, his mother made him take their dog with him for protection. “When I got to school and it was safe, I just told the dog to go home, and he would.”
After graduating from Lisbon High School at the age of 16, Hilton worked at Frederick Iron and Steel and then in construction. He joined the Marines in 1951.
“I don’t really feel I did anything, many did so much more,” he said of those who fought in the Korean War.
One of his strongest memories is the last day of the war. He was trying to get machine guns and ammunition to a group of Marines getting hit by artillery fire.
“I couldn’t get to them. The line to them was blocked. There was artillery barrages from both sides. Then at 10 p.m. (July 27, 1953), flares went up and everything stopped. It was total silence. The war had ended.”
Returning to civilian life, Hilton was a “repo man,” taking back vehicles when the owners were delinquent in payment; then he was an insurance agent and joined the Montgomery County Police Department in 1958.
“I solved one murder in a few minutes. I came to a scene with a dead man, killed with an ax that was still there. I asked a child standing there if he knew whose ax it was. He told me whose it was, the guy was standing nearby. I asked him if he killed the man, he said ‘Yes,’ and I arrested him.”
Hilton then moved to Michigan, where he had a pig farm and was a police officer in Kalamazoo. He left the police force to do sales at a lumberyard in Battle Creek, eventually becoming manager of the business. Asked why he changed careers so much, Hilton said he just got bored.
He moved back to Maryland in 1968 and went to work for a home-building company and in 1977 started his own firm, Custom Home Design.
“I never built more than eight houses in a year, but they were all from the drawing board custom. And they are still standing.”
At that time, builders could go to the county permits office, pay $6 and build without an inspection, Hilton said.
He was active with the Frederick County Builders Association, serving a term as president and often at odds with county commissioners over what he saw as too much regulation on private land.
Hilton holds a “Spike” designation for recruiting more than 200 people into the building association. He also wrote the “Builders’ Block,” an opinion column for The Frederick News-Post.
“I was trying to keep Frederick for the small builders, let them control how growth would go. Instead, it was opened to the big builders and small builders have been pushed out over the years,” Hilton said.
“Experiences are like a collection of pieces of cloth that make up a quilt. The pieces together can make something beautiful.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)