‘A Long Way to Go,’ a book 20 years in the works, shares the legacy of Nevada County’s Lowell Robinson
David Comstock says he was a latecomer to the project, but certainly not a newcomer to the subject of the book.
“A Long Ways to Go: Lowell Guy Robinson & Robinson Enterprises,” released this week, was in the works for nearly 20 years when Robinson asked Comstock to help finish the piece as local co-author Martin Keith Marsh’s health began to fail in 2012. Comstock, owner of Comstock Bonzana Press, accepted the invite, which he said left some of his friends scratching their heads over a collaboration with Robinson, whose logging operation was often in the crosshairs of Nevada County’s environmental activists.
“Some people felt conflicted, like I didn’t belong in the picture, because I had so many friends who are environmentalists,” Comstock said. “But Lowell just sort of waved that off.
“Most important is what a good man he was. Everybody loved him. The only people who disliked him never talked to him.”
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AN ENTREPRENEUR’S ENERGY
Lowell Robinson ran the business — starting as Robinson & Sons, now known as Robinson Enterprises, Inc. — with two longtime partners, Joe Griggs and Ed Walker. The trio were affectionately known as “The Big Three.” He attributed the multimillion-dollar company’s success to having a keen eye when it came to filling a need and knowing when to let go of an unsuccessful venture. Even in his later years, Robinson still came into his Nevada City office six days a week, with no plans to retire.
“I’m always looking for other opportunities,” he told The Union in 2012. “For example, this week we bought a used truck below the market value and we’ll just pull out the parts and use them on our other trucks.”
Early on, Robinson Enterprises boomed along with the timber industry, which has since waned. But that cash infusion enabled the company to expand into the petroleum business. When an opportunity presented itself in 1972, they were able to buy four Shell gas stations and a bulk oil facility. It proved to be a worthy investment, as was their fleet of 75 trucks and other equipment. In addition to timber harvesting and petroleum, over the years the company has expanded into site construction development, hazardous materials removal, road construction, dump truck parts services, walnut orchards and even a popular burrito bar at their East Main Street gas station.
“Lowell Robinson’s life was the expression of a spirit, an energy, which drove him and inspired other men to follow,” Gage McKinney, local historian and author, wrote in the foreword to the book. “The bond between him and the talented men who joined in his enterprises was a bond of mutual recognition. The men saw in Lowell a natural leader, a man who could do and would do any job he would ask another man to do, and likely turn a profit while doing it.”
Comstock said by the time he came aboard with the book project, Marsh had dug deep into details of the decisions Robinson made in the face of a changing business landscape. He said it was pretty clear Robinson wanted people to realize what he did, but didn’t want to write his own story. Robinson regularly made trips to Comstock’s Chalk Bluff home to share the stories that became part of the book. Those discussions, Comstock said, helped him understand Robinson’s political points of view, even if he didn’t agree with them. But that wasn’t such a rare thing years ago, he said. He noted that as a member of the You Bet Red Dog Neighborhood Association, he often was on the opposite side of arguments, even of the legal variety, with Hansen Bros. Enterprises.
“And yet after it was all over, (Arlie) Hansen became my best friend,” Comstock said.
“I understood exactly where Lowell was coming from,” Comstock said. “I understood why Lowell was conservative and why he didn’t have a great amount of trust in government.”
Whatever his thoughts were on the politics of the community, there was no question in Robinson’s commitment to it, Comstock said, noting all the donations of dollars, equipment and sweat equity to various causes among myriad community service organizations and volunteers.
“He was always doing favors, but he never liked to talk about them,” Comstock said.
The year Robinson died, 2015, was personally a tough one for Comstock, as his wife, Ardis, and Marsh also died that same year. In the years that followed, he turned to the help of the Robinson family, through friend Cindy Anderson, to finish work on the book. Comstock, who said he has sought to publish “books that would not get published otherwise” since 1979, was determined to finish the work Robinson and Marsh had begun decades earlier to share Lowell Robinson’s story and the legacy he left behind.
“His legacy is that you can do anything you want,” Comstock said, “if you try hard enough.”
“A Long Ways to Go: Lowell Guy Robinson & Robinson Enterprises” is available locally at The Book Seller in Grass Valley and at Harmony Books in Nevada City.
— Staff Writer Cory Fisher contributed to this story.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at email@example.com or by phone at 530-477-4249.
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