Joe Harmon and the “Wet-well” Smack

Most of us have a person or persons that we remember as special for one reason or another.  I hardly knew Joe Harmon and yet he was special to me.  He was old and deaf when I was working in Ted Boyce’s store back in 1942.  I simply remember him sitting on the stone wall out front of the store talking with Tom Williams, who was also deaf.  Their conversations were hilarious.  Tom would say, “I think I’ll plant six or eight rows of potatoes this season, and Joe would respond, “That’s sounds good.  Are you going to paint it, stain it, or leave it as is?”

However, I heard a lot about Joe from my dad, Harold Small, as he had worked school vacations for Joe, who was a lobster dealer back in the early 1900s.  Dad was also a good friend of the family, and I am named for Joe’s son, Montelle.  Anyhow, since Joe was real witty, my dad remembered to pass along to me some of his “Joe Harmon” stories.  Here is one I liked: 

Joseph Cummings Harmon

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

As a lobster dealer, Joe also had a “wet-well” smack.  For those of you not familiar with this type of boat, they were generally about the size of a sardine boat.  Live lobsters were carried in a water tight cargo hold.  Holes were drilled in both sides of the boat (including the sides of the cargo hold) so that the level of water in the cargo hold was always the same as the water outside and constantly changing.  The story goes that Joe and my dad were headed to Vinalhaven to buy lobsters.  They were off Greenhead Point across from Peggy’s Island when they saw a Coast Guard boat coming towards them and hailing them, “Ahoy, Nina P, we are going to come alongside for an inspection.”  Joe said to my father, “I think all the life preservers and the extinguisher are on the other boat—but it does seem to me that most of those fellers are from up around Aroostook County.”  

So they hove to and the Coast Guard boat got ready to pull alongside when Joe says to my father, “Harold, pull that hatch cover off.”  My father did, and of course you’re now looking at a cargo hold full of water.  Joe made sure that when the other boat pulled alongside, it was right abreast of the open cargo hold.  The inspector stepped aboard, and Joe said, “We certainly welcome you aboard, but it seems that we have sprung a bad leak, as you can see.”  The inspector took one look at the cargo hold full of water and said, “Good God, man!!  Get the boat ashore as fast as you can!”  Joe allowed as how he would do just that.  The inspector made a hurried jump back onto his boat, and they both went their separate ways.  Joe turned into Allen’s cove over by the yacht basin, just far enough to be out of sight, waited until the Coast Guard boat was well away and then proceeded for Vinalhaven.  My dad said that was “pretty quick thinking, Joe.” And Joe, in a typical monotone voice, said, “Just what I thought—hay shakers.”


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