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.

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