Robert Hilton Jr., owner of Bob Hilton Excavation of Newcastle, died Thursday at the age of 57.

After graduating from Lincoln Academy, Mr. Hilton began working with Chester Rice Co. Through his position there, he learned how to operate excavation equipment, said his wife, Elayn Hilton.

“He learned everything there,” she said. He had never worked in excavation before, she said, but, “he got really, really good at it.”

Mr. Hilton began Bob Hilton Excavation in the mid-1980s. Working by himself, he often started work early in the morning, and didn’t return home until after 6 or 7 p.m. When needed, he also would work a bit on Saturdays and Sundays.

His hard work paid off, because after a few years in the business he hardly had to advertise, his wife said. Working primarily in the midcoast, Mr. Hilton got new jobs from references.

“A lot of it was people recommending him,” she said.

Many jobs that Mr. Hilton completed in the area were for new homes, whether it was digging foundations or holes for septic systems, connecting wells to houses or working on short roads.

Mr. Hilton and his wife attended high school together and were married for 33 years. Elayn Hilton described her husband as a “class clown” in his high school days.

His sense of humor and clever ways persisted throughout his life. Once, after a hailstorm, Mr. Hilton tricked his daughter Amanda Chaisson, who was 6, that a large rock among the hail was a dinosaur egg.

“We brought it inside, and I made a nest for it and waited for it to hatch,” she said. “Of course, it never did.”

As his daughters approached the age when they started to doubt the existence of Santa Claus, Mr. Hilton went to great lengths one Christmas Eve to make them believe, his wife said.

He went to a neighbor’s farm, gathered horse manure to scatter in the backyard to imitate reindeer droppings, walked through ash near the cook stove in their house and chewed up carrots, leaving crumbs as reindeer might.

“So when the girls got up next morning, they saw the footprints, and he said, ‘Look in the backyard! There’s reindeer poop,’” his wife said. “So we got Santa Claus stretched out for one more year.”

In the evenings during the summer, Mr. Hilton continued to work outdoors, tending to his vegetable gardens. The gardens were much larger when the two daughters were young, his wife said.

“We did a lot of canning,” she said.

He regularly planted green beans, tomatoes, beets and cucumbers, experimenting on occasion with other crops, like eggplant, broccoli or cauliflower.

When there were excess crops, Mr. Hilton often shared with his neighbors. Often, he would trade produce with a close friend and fellow gardener, his wife said.

“They’d switch off for things he grew but we didn’t,” she said.

After their two daughters moved out, Mr. Hilton and his wife enjoyed the company of four cats. When Mr. Hilton worked in his shop, one of the cats would stay with him while he worked.

“When he was done, he’d get in his truck and drive up the hill with the cat in the truck with him,” his wife said, adding that the cat was more like the family dog.

Even with their children out of the house, the couple made it a point to have Sunday dinners for the family.

“We’d always plan something to do fun for Sunday dinner,” his wife said. “We’d cook up some stuff for dinner and then watch a game together, or a movie if there were no games on.”

Most recently, they enjoyed the company of their twin grandchildren, who were born in February.

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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