By Sherri Coner
Most of the time, Robert Eastes is a predictable guy.
He spends time in one of two places … the room where sawdust coats the floor and the scent of paint hangs in the air… or in the room where “Robert’s Museum” decorates the door and Indy 500 creations and keepsakes are neatly displayed.
IT’S ALL WOOD
Wherever his wife, Barbara happens to find him, she knows music by The Eagles will be playing, “and the dog is in his lap,” she said with a smile. “He and Bobby love each other.”
Maybe the only unpredictable thing about this man she has loved for 57 years is that no one knows what he will create next with his skillful hands.
“Bob made those bookshelves,” Barbara said as she pointed to the solid wood shelving unit covering one wall in their living room.
To show off Robert’s talents because she knows he won’t, Barbara told a sweet story.
“When we had been married for maybe seven years, we bought a French provincial couch, and he made me a French provincial coffee table and two end tables. They were so nice.”
Along with Robert’s artistic abilities with wood, he is also a wonderful cook, Barbara said.
Robert added that he is most proud of serving his country.
Barbara and their five daughters, Rhonda Martinez of Joplin, Mo., Sharon Ward and Darlene Suter, both of Greenwood, Ellen Shostrand of Mooresville and Judy Maurer of St. Augustine, Fla. are proud that he is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
But they are equally proud of the amazing objects he creates.
When Robert emerges from his workshop with a completed project, he first shows it to Barbara.
Very sincerely, she brags on his amazing ability to create just about anything from wood.
And the word anything can’t be stressed enough.
THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT WOOD
When they were newly married, Robert, a diehard race fan, created race cars from wood. He placed the not-yet-completed race cars on TV trays around the house.
“I liked to work on a few different things at the same time,” he said with a grin.
As their family grew, Robert built household bunk beds, benches and tables.
Since all five daughters loved to watch “Little House on the Prairie,” this devoted dad created replicas of the Ingalls family home for each daughter.
While working for 29 years at Diamond Chain Co. in Indianapolis, Robert worked a lot of overtime. But he found time to build five cedar chests for his daughters.
When the girls grew up, married and started families, Robert calmly took on new challenges with wood.
“My dad made customized kitchen islands for my mom and for me,” said middle daughter, Darlene Suter. “He also made me a bookshelf. A hundred men could jump on that, and it would not go anywhere. It’s that solid.”
Dad also created five wooden trains for his daughters.
“Mine is under my Christmas tree every year,” Suter said proudly. “Everything Dad makes is just perfect.”
“You all got spoiled,” Robert said with a smile at his daughter.
As a grandfather of nine, Robert has constructed toy boxes and doll houses with tiny furniture for them, too.
On a whim one day, he also created an 8-foot Bigfoot.
“I put a Santa Claus suit on him every year for Halloween,” he said with a laugh.
After nearly 30 years with Diamond Chain, Robert went to work for Chevrolet.
He continued to work overtime.
He continued to create specific handmade requests by Barbara or the girls.
And Robert still squeezed in time for something else he was passionate about: car races.
He said of the Indy 500, “I went to 59 races and some qualifications.”
Robert’s Race Day buddy was always his brother-in-law, Joe Adams.
“He was killed in a car accident in 2006,” Robert said. “I never went back to the track after that.”
Robert also retired that year.
IT’S NEVER TOO MUCH OF A WOOD THING
When he no longer punched a time clock, Robert, now 81, concentrated more on rubbing rough edges with sandpaper, occasionally patting Bobby the dog and humming to whatever Eagles song was in the background.
Somewhere along the way, Robert’s heart healed after the loss of his buddy.
He has given away countless unique birdhouses, some that look like campers and one for a Marine, shaped like a grenade and painted Army green. He makes cell phone holders carved like different animals, stagecoaches, a replica of the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk Flyer, a large wall clock with Rose-Hullman carved across the bottom for a granddaughter who attended college there, jewelry boxes and several cedar chests for granddaughters and nieces.
Each grandchild has a creation their grandfather made specifically for them, Suter said.
“All of us treasure whatever he makes,” she said.
Robert has never sold one single item he has created. If he did that, “It would be a job,” he said with a grin.
Sketching what he wants to make, thinking about the tools he will need and giving all the freedom to his creative hands is an ability this man does not take lightly.
“It keeps my mind going,” Robert said. “If I couldn’t do this, I don’t know what I’d do.”