Blog - Monty’s Recollections of Island Life

Montelle L. “Monty” Small
monty@maine.rr.com

Capt. Tilden Fifield and the Knox Engine

Back in the ’30s and early ’40s all our mail and most of our supplies came by steamboat from Rockland. The boat usually got here by late afternoon, and by the time all mail and cargo had been discharged, it was early evening. So, with the quarries going full tilt and everyone having had supper, downtown was pretty busy. The mail had been sorted out, Charles Brimigion’s hotdog stand was busy as could be, and there was the usual gathering at Jewett Noyes’ drugstore for the evening paper and of course the usual daily conversations.

One night the “Knox” engine salesman was also in attendance. Some years ago he had sold a Knox engine to Capt. Tilden Fifield, and the results were somewhat disastrous. Many’s the time Tilden was hauling his traps only to have the Knox quit on him—and he had to call for help and be towed home. (“Calling” back then did not mean using a cell phone or radio. It usually meant yelling, waving, or blowing a horn if you had one.)

Tilden could be outspoken, and he also had a loud, high-pitched voice, so he usually got command of his audience when he started talking. The Knox engine salesman, standing there amongst this group of men (including Tilden) there in the drugstore, announced to Tilden that it might be about time to consider buying a new Knox engine. Tilden wasted no time in telling his audience what he thought about that engine.

Says Tilden, “Mister, if a Knox engine was falling out of the sky and headed right for me, I wouldn’t move an inch, cause that damned engine would stop before it got to me.”

All, except one, got a big laugh out of “the Knox engine story.” 

Workin’ at the Yard

The war was on and the “yard” (the Stonington-Deer Isle Yacht Basin, now Billings Marine) needed some able-bodied laborers.  We were high school students aged 15 or 16.  It was a perfect fit.  Most of us already had family members working there.  My dad was the timekeeper, Lloyd Brimigion’s father ran the boiler house, Jack and Byron Billings’ father was one of the owners.  So it wasn’t long before there were quite a few students working weekends, vacations, and holidays.

One job that most of us did at one time or another, was picking up wood shavings that collected down below the work platforms that the adz men sat on as they wielded their adzes to shape the planking on the boats.  With a number of these adz men on both sides of the boat steadily chipping away, it kept several us busy picking up the chips, taking them to the boiler room, dumping them in the boiler feed bin, and going back for another load of chips.

Another job I had was helping on the yard truck, which was continually moving planks from the sawmill to the pond or to and from the steam box to the planking gang in the main shed, where they set the planking in place on the hull framework.  I can hear Charles Weed now, hollering “Hot plank!”  It was important that a plank, hot and wet from the steam box, be set into place as soon as possible so it could be clamped and pulled to the curvature of the hull.  I think Earl Perez and Harold “Heave” Eaton ran the yard truck, but they needed us kids to help with the lifting and tugging.  It was hard work, but we didn’t seem to mind it; besides, the pay was good at 50 cents an hour!

One day they had a group of us enlarging a small pond to be used as a feed-water source for the boiler.  Clarence Welch was the boss over us.  The job took several days, as it was slow work, and the ground was frozen.  One morning George Billings came over to the job and said, “I can’t let you boys work today.  It’s too cold:  35° below zero down in the yard.  So punch out at the gate house, and come back tomorrow when it’s warmer.”  So we punched out, and Frank Allen and I walked all the way past Oceanville corner to his house, got his old car running and went riding.  Didn’t seem that cold to us, and it beat hacking away at frozen ground.

The following year we graduated from high school.  I was only 16 so I went to work in the machine shop at the yard.  I ran the tool crib, sharpened tools, threaded pipe and bolts, and even learned how to run a lathe and several other machines.  I never got real good at it, but it sure helped me when I went to the Maritime Academy the following year to train to be a ship’s engineer.

The men in the machine shop were always very good to me, helping me learn all sorts of jobs and treating me as “one of the gang,” and that turned out to be an important turning point in life for me.  I’ll always appreciate and remember the help I got from the shop foreman Roy “Snooky” Snowden, Ray Rice, Jimmy Gray, Len Judkins, Harold Eaton, and a host of others.

Waitin' on Trade and Truckin' Along

Waitin' on Trade and Truckin' Along

I got my drivers license in 1942 or ’43 and got a summer job clerking in Ted Boyce’s grocery store (now Boyce’s Motel).  That meant I got to drive the delivery truck.  That was like going to heaven and getting paid for it.  Of course, the main part of the job was waiting on the customers. I think I told you the story about the canned milk display [see Workin’ at the Store].  That was only one of several disasters that took place when Jasper Wyman and I “waited on trade.”  Ted must have had a heart of gold and the patience of Job to put up with us. 

One day I took the truck over back of Kay Cleveland’s house for a delivery and while backing up, I put one set of rear wheels off over a stone wall.  All of a sudden I’m looking at the sky and the truck is teetering on this stone wall.  I ran all the way back to the store and told my story of woe to Ted.  I’m near to crying as Ted tells me, “Go wait on trade.”  

Later on Ted says “Len Judkins just brought the truck back in one piece, so take a bag of cracked corn and an order of groceries up to Oceanville, and try to stay out of the ditch.”  Well, I got up to Oceanville okay, but I ran out of gas at Tea Hill turn.  I ran all the way back to the store where I told Ted my latest story of woe.  Ted said, “Go wait on trade.”  Pretty soon Ted told me that “Len just showed up with your truck, and he gassed it up for you too.”  

Well, I guess that’s enough for one day.  That’s Ted’s thinking, not mine!

Workin’ at the Store

Back in 1943, when I was sixteen and had just  graduated from high school and had also just got my drivers license, I asked Ted Boyce if I could work at his grocery store.  Ted’s son George was my good friend and classmate, but George didn’t want to work in his dad’s store.   had a herring seining business and that was what George was interested in.  I know that Ted had Carol Staples from Swan’s Island working for him, and I think they had a weir or two around Hat Island.

John T. Treneer Grocery

Anyway, Ted hired me to wait on trade in the store and also, because I now had a drivers license, I could drive his truck to make deliveries of grain.  I was on top of the world.  Ted also hired Jasper Wyman to work in the store.  Jasper was only a year older than me, and we were friends so everything worked out great.

So the summer was going along in full swing; business was great, we were busy and Ted was happy, but then one day something happened that will stay in my mind forever.  Ted had some storage of case goods out in back in a cellar area, and sometimes it got a little damp out there.  In this instance there were quite a number of cases of canned milk that had got wet and the labels came loose.  The milk was still okay, and Ted decided to have a sale on the milk.  He told Jasper and me to make a nice display in the center of the store, so we built a large pyramid of cans; must have been a hundred or more.  It was a real nice eye-catching display.

Early in the afternoon a Deer Isle lady came in to shop.  She was a large, full-bosomed lady known for a no-nonsense attitude and a bit of a temper.  Anyway, things were going along well as we helped her with her shopping.  Finally she stood at the counter, and we are packing things for her when in walks an Isle au Haut fisherman—a nice man but inclined to drink too much, which was the case that day.  He sauntered up next to the lady, sort of looked her up and down and decided to grab onto her in a desirable place.  She would have none of this and proceeded to give him a backhander that sent him flying straight into the pyramid of canned milk.  Jasper and I just stood there in horror and amazement as we watched the scene play out.  She stormed out of the store without her groceries, swearing like a pirate.  He was busy trying to extricate himself from a floor full of cans, and Ted was out back somewhere oblivious to the whole thing.

All our hard work was now strewn all over the floor, and we had no choice but to put it all back together.  I don’t imagine we thought the episode was funny at all back then, but today I get a chuckle whenever I think of it.

Montelle L. “Monty" Small

July 2014

monty@maine.rr.com 

[Ed. Note:  Ted Boyce’s store was where the current Boyce’s Motel is; Jack Treneer’s store, in the photo, was from an earlier era.]

Trawlin’ for Hake in ’42

fish

In 1942 WWII was upon us in full force.  The old adage that “an army moves on its stomach” proved to be true.  Russian soldiers were in need of food, and Barter’s cannery got a contract to supply canned fish to them.  The fish were mostly hake with some cod and haddock mixed in.

Lobstermen removed their cabins or spray hoods from the boats and just boxed in the engine and a place to stand at the helm; the remaining space was for fish only.  Every lobsterman from Stonington, Isle au Haut, and Swans Island was “trawlin'" and nobody was lobstering.  Boats would come in loaded with fish, with only inches of freeboard.  At the factory, Gene Chatto was on the hoister.  Ray Gross was the boss in the cutting room, and Carl Burgess was the factory Superintendent.  I was on the gutting table for awhile, along with Punk Gray and several others.  When the boats came in, mostly fully loaded, the fish were offloaded, weighed, and sluiced down to the cutting tables.  It doesn’t take long to rip and gut a fish, and there were folks putting the fish on flaking trays, and from there into the retorts for cooking.  Once they came out, the fish were dumped onto the tables where the women stuffed a handful or two into a can that went onto a moving track to the sealing machine.  The result was a nice can of fish to a Russian soldier.  I swear that this operation went so fast that the fish was still warm when the soldier opened the can (just kidding)!

Of course somebody had to bait those 1,000-hook trawls, and that would include me and several other kids who did it down at Joe Gott’s wharf on West Main Street for Earl Gross.  He was normally a lobsterman but like all the rest, he was now a full-time trawler for hake.  Earl was my second cousin but that didn’t mean I got more pay; you got paid $1 a tub for baiting 1,000 hooks with herring.  

If you laid each baited hook just right into that tub of trawl, it would come out untangled, as the tub was held just right back at the stern.  However, if you were careless and one hook got caught under another hook, then there was a general foulup and you could expect to hear from Earl the next day if it was your tub of trawl.  Lillian Billings baited trawls along with us boys.  Several years younger than I was, she was fast but, more important, she was accurate.  Earl knew when he was setting out a tub of trawl that Lillian had baited, it went out smooth as silk. 

Work was done at night so the tubs of trawl (about ten tubs with 1,000 hooks per tub) would be ready to set on the boats around daylight.  It took them at least an hour to get to the fishing grounds, east of Isle au Haut.  They would set an anchor buoy at one end and tie on one end of the trawl line, each of which had 1,000 short lines with baited hooks spaced every couple of feet apart.  When they got to the end, they would just tie on another tub until all ten tubs were set out.  Then they’d set an anchor buoy and go back to the beginning and start hauling in the hake that they hoped had responded to the bait.

Well, that was long ago, and I’m sure some Russian soldiers were pleased with a can of fresh fish.  I also know that Earl Gross was pleased, as usual, with Lillian’s baited trawl and probably disgusted with mine.  I was always jealous of Lillian! 


[Ed. Note:  See Northeast Fisheries Science Center website for current information on hake off the New England coastline.]

Cape Racers and Bobsleds

Back in the 1930s and early ’40s, kids in Stonington were still using the main roads for sliding.  Depending on where you lived, you used the nearest hill:  Thurlow’s Hill, which is Route 15 or Main Street just below the junction of Indian Point Road, a.k.a. Clam City Road, for the east end of town; and Meeting House Hill, or Highland Avenue, for the west end.  School Street (Russ’s Hill by the Opera House) wasn’t used as it was too steep, and when (if) you got to the bottom, you were apt to go right off the road into the harbor.  Besides, it was always pretty well sanded or salted.  

I lived at the top of Russ’s Hill so I always went sliding on Highland Avenue, starting near the old Congo Church and going all the way to Green Head if the snow was hard-packed and icy.  When you got to the intersection with West Main Street (Flossie Wallace’s corner), there was a bit of a rise right there by Charles Robbins’ house with the big spruce tree in the yard.  If you were going fast enough to make that rise, then you kept on going to Green Head and sometimes made it to the bottom of Jack Murphy’s hill. 

Some kids had store-bought Flexible Flyers, and some had homemade bobsleds that had two small sleds, one front and one rear, with a long plank in between.  It would hold four or five kids, depending on the length of the plank.  You steered with the front sled; usually with grab handles on the sled.  My favorite sled was a “Cape Racer,” and lots of kids had one.  Lyndon “Ham” Gross lived on the hill, and he had a real fast one named “Queenie.”  I always understood that this type sled was originally developed over in Cape Rosier, thus the name Cape Racer.  They were indeed fast.  They were made with two angled wooden side rails having polished steel runners.  The rails were joined by a series of dowels set into the rails, and these are what you laid down on to slide. You crossed your arms in front of you and pulled up on the right rail to go right and left rail to go left.  You also used a little body motion to help turn.

It always seemed to me that the town went easy on sanding these hills so we could have fun sliding.  Even so, we quite often had to ditch because of an oncoming car.  Kids walking back up the hill would holler “Road” if a car was coming up so we could ditch.  Cars all wore chains back then, and quite often there was a broken link and you could hear them coming.

The days of the Cape Racer and the homemade bobsled are long gone, but it would make an interesting piece of memorabilia if one or both could be found and donated to the Historical Society.

Skating at the Meadow


Ames Meadow (sometimes pronounced “Amezez”—at least that’s the way I said it) was down Clam City Road, now called Indian Point Road because it sounds more “genteel.”  The “Meadow” is what’s called a “eutrophic” pond, as it has gradually filled in with algae and pond lilies.  

Back in the ’40s it was a sizable pond and great for skating.  Lots of night skating and bonfires. The Ames brothers, Calvin and Burt, never tried to stop us from skating or building bonfires, and we never did had any problems, to my knowledge.  Burt would walk across the pond to cut wood over on the far side, and come noon Calvin would come out of the house and blow a horn (it looked like a cow’s horn) and pretty soon Burt would walk out of the woods on his way to dinner.  Yes, that pond was pretty busy all winter long with skaters of all ages.


[Ed. Note:  Here is the pond during the summer.]

Going Smelting

Salt water smelts always made for the brooks in early spring to spawn.  There were a number of good brooks:  Jack’s Brook, just after you turn off Route 15 to go to Oceanville; a couple of brooks near Long Cove on Route 15; and a real nice brook where the road splits to go to Mountainville or the Greenlaw district.  There were many more just as good.  

Back then you had to catch them by hand—no nets allowed.  All you needed was a 10-quart bucket, a flashlight, and your hand.  Sometimes there would be so many that you’d get six or eight at a time.  Hard to beat pan-fried smelts.

St. Mary’s Spaghetti Suppers

During the ’30s and ’40s members of the Catholic church would put on an annual spaghetti and meatball supper.  I seem to recall that is was 50 cents for all you could eat, and it was GOOD!

The event was always held in St. Mary’s Hall which, as I remember, was upstairs in Frank McGuire’s rather large garage on Seabreeze Avenue.  There were many Italian families in Stonington, and the women were invariably great cooks.  You always knew when there was going to be a spaghetti dinner because downtown smelled of spaghetti, tomato sauce, and meatballs.  I get hungry just thinking about it !!


Joe Harmon at the Legislature


Joseph Cummings Harmon

Joseph Cummings Harmon:  Member of Maine Legislature in 1909, representing Stonington, Maine

Another story about Joe Harmon comes from his days as the Stonington representative in the statehouse:  

During a legislative session in Augusta, Joe wanted to address a lobster fishing bill but Joe was quite hard of hearing, so he told the fellow sitting next to him to let him know when that particular bill came up for discussion.  Apparently, the fellow fell asleep but woke up and nudged Joe just as they were discussing the problem of a red-light (prostitution) district in Lewiston.  Joe jumped up and said he wanted to speak on this problem as many folks in his district made their living in this manner!


Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society ✦ P O Box 652 ✦ Deer Isle,  ME  04627 ✦ 207-348-6400