Bob hitchhiked from Alaska to West Virginia to marry his sweetheart, Millie.
            Before recording this self-portrait in Montana, Bob spent the night sleeping in a
            nearby wheat field.


Failing my way to success

I guess I was a kid with a different way of thinking. Always had my own way of seeing things. Some of this surely came from having parents who allowed me to speak up and think for myself. So thinking out in "left field" started early.

Like when I purposely flunked a semester of the ninth grade to give myself a better chance of playing varsity baseball as a high school senior. I made that "visionary" decision while still in the eighth grade, the year I first played summer baseball and fell in love with the game. This was in the hills of West Virginia, in the capital city of Charleston where I grew up.

By flunking a ninth grade semester I would be a year older for my last season of high school baseball, which meant I would have a better chance of being in the starting lineup. Such was my youthful logic.

I, indeed, purposely flunked myself the second half of the ninth grade. "F" grades in math and English will do it every time (easy enough for me at that period in my life, when only sports and art had much meaning). Thus my long-range scheme was underway. The next year, as a high school sophomore I made the baseball team, but no uniform. As a junior I had a uniform, but sat on the bench. But then, lo and behold, the spring of my senior year I was starting left fielder. And so it was, a kid's crazy dream, or vision if you will, did come true.

The bulldog kid

And then there was the time as a high school sophomore that I refused to accept the "B" team basketball coach's "No."

It was tryout time and some 70 of us tenth-graders showed up the first night at the gym. Each morning, after the previous night's tryouts, the coach posted the names of the kids to come back for more tryouts. If your name was missing - you were cut. For a week my name appeared on the list each morning, until the names were down to 17. The last night of tryouts the coach was going to cut the last two kids to get the team down to the final 15 players. The next morning my name was not on the list. I hadn't made the team. Any normal kid would have gone on with their life, if a bit sadly. But not me. That night I went back to the school, put on my practice uniform and walked onto the basketball court.

The coach didn't have the heart to tell me I couldn't be on the team. He came up with an extra game uniform and there were 16 of us on the "B" team that year. I didn't play much, but I didn't care. It was fun just practicing and being a part of the team.

A black and white first

The high school years were fun and innocent. I didn't think much about the fact that our high school was all white, and that the black kids went to their own high school in another part of town. My two baseball buddies and I didn't give it a second thought that in the summer the teams we played on were just as segregated.

It was a small notice in the newspaper that led us to a revealing experience. The notice read something like this: The Institute Rangers will hold tryouts Saturday at 10 a.m. at Institute Field. The Institute Rangers were a well-known summer, all-black baseball team that had played in our valley for many years. This was in 1951, only four years after Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier and three years before the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education launched the beginning of true integration in America.

After reading the Ranger's notice, my two baseball buddies and myself looked at each other and said, "Why not?" When we showed up for the tryouts, the black kids looked at the three of us white kids and they too must have figured "why not?"

Thus, the all-black Institute Rangers became the black and white Rangers that magic summer of 1951. A summer of camaraderie and good baseball.

A valuable lesson for three white kids and our black teammates - that skin color is not important, that people are people.

Life gets a little more serious

After graduating from high school, I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to become a commercial artist. It took only one year at Pratt's prestigious art school to learn that I was only pretty good compared to many of the other art students. At that point I figured "pretty good" wasn't good enough and decided to let the Army have its way with me. I was drafted.

The possibility of being shipped off to the Far East to fight in the Korean War was high. Fortunately, the Army sent me in the other direction and I spent 18 months in France playing service basketball and baseball. And, with my first camera ever, I traveled throughout Europe recording pictures of everything in sight. At the time I had no idea how this would affect my life.

After leaving the Army I figured that becoming an architect would be the best way to use my artistic skills. I entered Marshall College in Huntington, W.Va. hoping to improve my math skills enough to be accepted into an architecture school. That didn't happen, but I discovered the joy of writing when an English teacher encouraged me to pen a short story. Soon I found myself in an entirely new world and major - journalism.

On the road

During summers at Marshall my thoughts turned to the open road and adventure.

One summer I decided to hitchhike across America: New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans (and all that incredible land between).

               INTO THE WILD After the long haul up the Alcan Highway in 1958 and
               ready for a summer of adventure, Bob Lynn, kneeling, stops at the Alaska-
               Canada border, with Marshall College classmates, Emil Notti, left, and Bob
               Roberts


Two summers later I took off on a second adventure. Two other Marshall students and I drove the Alcan Highway to Fairbanks, Alaska, seeking summer work. I lucked into a job with the Bureau of Land Management, driving firefighters, equipment and supplies to forest fires. Besides learning how to double-clutch an old Ford stake truck, missing moose on the road and falling in love with the wilds of Alaska, I was making more money than I had ever imagined, thus prompting a telephone call to my sweetheart back in Charleston.



Popping the question

"Millie, will you marry me?" Her answer of "yes" sent me hightailing it for West Virginia as soon as the fire season ended. With a beat up suitcase - plastered with a "W.Va. or Bust" sign - and sleeping bag in hand, I hitchhiked 4,400 miles from Anchorage to Charleston in 10 days. A week later Millie and I were married. (More than fifty years later we are still married - happily so.)

These two hitchhiking adventures taught me lessons that would serve me well when I entered the field of journalism - if you want something bad enough, anything is possible, if you're willing to take risks and go for it.

During those youthful years I also learned a lot more. Like not letting setbacks knock me down; that stubborn determination can win the day; and that doing what you feel is right instead of going along with the customs of the day is important.

Luck plays a hand

The fall following my Alaskan adventure, while finishing up my journalism degree to become a newspaper reporter, I made what seemed an insignificant decision. It turned out to be one that launched me on a path of good fortune that my young bride and I could not have foreseen. A very lucky path for family and career, indeed.

Needing a 3-hour elective course to complete my credits for graduation, I took a news photography course, learning to develop film and print my own pictures in the darkroom. It was fun. The combination of this new eye-opening experience and the enthusiastic support of my teachers for the pictures I was producing made me think, "Hmmm, maybe a career as a reporter/photographer would be cool."

© 2016. All Rights Reserved. Contact Bob Lynn at boblynnvch@gmail.com.