January 23, 2008
Bob Robe Celebrates 30-year Milestone at Gale Banks Engineering, Receives One and Only Banks AA/TD Award
He was just a kid of 26, working on his master's degree in education at California State University, Los Angeles, and an avid admirer of anything "turbo" before that word ever came close to being considered "household," when Bob Robe's storied career at Gale Banks Engineering began.
At the time, Bob had been supplementing his day job as an instructor's aide in the technical-arts department at Beverly Hills High School by doing freelance technical illustrations and teaching technical illustration courses at Cal State. Of course, he was already a full-fledged gearhead, working on his own and friends' race cars and spending lots of time at the drag races.
Bob's admiration for all things turbocharged was already well spooled up when he saw an announcement at the university that Gale Banks was to deliver a lecture on-you guessed it-turbocharging. Needless to say, Bob was there early, sitting right up front when the man himself, Gale Banks, already known as "Mr. Turbocharging" in Southern California, began his talk.
Near the end of the lecture, Gale indicated that his young company might have some job openings. Needless to say, there was Bob, beaming a big smile and with a hand raised high. "Not much later," Gale recalled, "the dean of the department was calling me on Bob's behalf."
Flash forward to 2008, and 56-year-old Bob Robe, who serves faithfully as the chief of design at Gale Banks Engineering, celebrated on Jan. 23 the fact that he has been there and done that job for 30 years straight.
"Working with Gale has been an incredible ride," said Bob, who remembers that those first years were almost entirely given over to the building of strong, tough Banks marine engines. "We made several hundred a year; they were 95 percent Chevy big-blocks. They ran the gamut from simple bolt-on turbo kits to full blueprinting jobs which made so much horsepower that we intentionally understated the number so that people would believe us."
Bob's employment goes back far enough that he can claim he was with Banks in the years BD ("Before Diesel"), so he quite well remembers the start of the diesel days. In the early 1980s, Gale took a very fast Pontiac Firebird to Bonneville and set all sorts of records for stock-bodied machines. "As part of the sponsorship package, we were required to use GMC diesel trucks for transport, and they were deadly slow," explained Bob. "Gale said, 'Hey, let's turbocharge 'em!' Well, we did, and the rest was a whole new business that Gale started almost from scratch."
The way it worked then and still does today is one of the great teamwork stories of all time. In the simplest of terms, Gale is the dreamer and Bob is the doer. The two are, as it is often said, "complementary." As the company has grown larger and more complex in the 30 years that Bob has been on staff, Gale Banks himself has less time to spend out in the shop, and Bob's job has become more and more important.
"He's the go-to guy out in the shop, a leader by example," says Gale of Bob. "He's got a designer's eye and an engineer's gut. His attention to detail is exactly in tune with mine, and it's flat-out ferocious. He can almost prototype a component in his head; it's like mental CAD CAM. I like to call it Bob-CAD."
Gale noted that Bob is the keeper of what has become the Banks Style: clean, clearly stated design that not only accomplishes the work for which a particular product was built but looks "right" doing that job. A bracket is a bracket, but in Bob's hands, the form and function are seamless.
"Bob has been an essential part of every project, every machine, and every record that we've had the good fortune to set since I hired him in 1978. His work ethic is just first-rate. But it's that twinkle in his eye that he gets when he's just beginning on a new project and maybe making a few preliminary sketches that's so cool. You can't miss it; the fire has been ignited, and Bob is on the case."
Bob Robe's strong connection with tradition and his grasp of the future make for a nice blend that has been a strong building block of the Banks success for more than a quarter-century.
Bob and his wife of 24 years, Jamie, reside in the California mission town of San Gabriel, once also home to the company for whom Bob has served so faithfully throughout the years. Aside from being involved daily in a job that puts him on the cutting edge of diesel technology, Bob also loves the nostalgia drags, building street rods, and, by his own admission, his affiliation as a "Parrothead" among fellow Jimmy Buffet fans.
Bob Robe, perhaps the quietest and most self-effacing employee among the company's 200-strong brigade, was honored on Jan. 23 at a dinner attended by co-workers and friends. Gale paid tribute to Bob with remarks that had the usually unflappable company founder more than once a little choked up and a bit misty-eyed, then presented Bob with the keys to a brand-new (Banks red, of course!) Dodge Ram 1500 Hemi pickup.
Bob was still reeling from being handed the truck keys when Gale sent him into emotional overload with the presentation of a specially created AA/TD award. Drag racing fans will recognize the AA distinction as the top in the sport, and for Bob, the trophy, also an icon in drag racing circles, honored the 30-year employee as the company's Top Design Champion.
Bob's own remarks on the night were characteristically modest, saying that he never would have thought that he would be able to live his dream for any amount of time, let alone 30 years. After receiving good wishes from all in attendance, he drove off into a stormy night back to the Banks shop, where he finished up some detail work on the new Banks marine engine that was shipped to the Miami Boat Show the following morning. That's Bob Robe in a nutshell.