By Steve Sears
Rob Skead says it was hot that July 14 day when he and his family visited Oakland, New Jersey’s historic Van Allen Home.
When he exited the home in the afternoon and looked at the marker in front of it, he learned that General George Washington himself had visited the Van Allen home on the same date in 1777.
Perhaps the date thing was a coincidence, but even so Skead, a Wyckoff resident, started imagining a young boy accompanying the General during his Revolutionary War sojourns, and a story idea percolated. “It was pretty remarkable how I got an idea, and later my dad and I put it all together,” he says. “My imagination kind of went off. I was walking through the door jamb that George Washington had walked through; there I was in front of the fireplace were George Washington probably warmed himself in front of the fire. Even though it was a July day, it was apparently really raining for those two days, which is why they stopped there. They probably had the fireplace going to keep everybody warm. Again, my imagination went off, and I got an idea for a story.”
The idea may have been his son’s, who sort of had a synopsis, but his dad, also named Robert Skead (who was then 89 and is now 96-years-old) created a full treatment for the story after his son let the idea lay dormant for a long period. The elder Skead also learned that a distant relative, Lamberton Clark, had served in the Continental Army as part of the Connecticut Militia. Both Skeads joined the Sons of the American Revolution, received a certificate, and communicated back and forth via email regarding the story idea, and then wrote their first of three books together. “He (his dad) would do a lot of research, because he was retired, on weekends and at night,” Skead says. “So, it was back and forth, it was a collaborative process. I remember wanting to go in certain directions and he didn’t like certain ideas. Being a submissive son, I would just submit to his ideas, and his gut instinct was always right.”
That book, part of the duo’s American Revolutionary War Adventures series, is titled Patriots, Redcoats & Spies, and its companion book is Submarines, Secrets & A Daring Rescue. Both were published in 2015. A third book in the series, Links to Liberty: Defending the Great Chain at West Point, was published in 2021.
Courtesy of Skead’s website, the synopsis to Patriots, Redcoats & Spies:
When Revolutionary War Patriot Lamberton Clark is shot by British soldiers while on a mission for the Continental Army, he has only two hopes of getting the secret message he’s carrying to General George Washington: his 14-year-old twin boys John and Ambrose.
Upon discovering that their father is a spy in the Culper Spy Ring, the boys accept their mission without a clue about what they may be up against. They set off from Connecticut to New Jersey to find General Washington, but the road to the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army is full of obstacles; including the man who shot their father who is hot on their trail.
When the box containing their first book (the initial two were published a few months apart) arrived at the Skead home, the elder Skead was extremely proud. “After that,” his son says, “I remember going back and looking at some family pictures, and looking at pictures of me and him together. One was when I was a little kid, and there was a picture of me resting my head on his chest on the couch with him, and another picture of me and him fishing. Never, never did either of us ever imagine that one day there would be a couple of books with our names on it by a real publisher.”
Rob Skead’s first book was baseball related. Safe at Home is the story of 11-year-old Trevor Mitchell being gifted with a 1915 Babe Ruth rookie card. He also authored Hitting Glory, which finds another 11-year-old, Lou Gibson, trying to prove a baseball bat he found in the basement of his school belongs to “The Iron Horse”, Lou Gehrig. Skead’s books are aimed at the age groups of 7 to 13 (but are really an enjoyable read for all ages), and his latest completed work takes place during World War II.
For more information about Skead and his work, visit www.robertskead.com.