Out of Our Past

Bob Goodspeed’s Memories, Part III

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 7:00am

The preceding article about Bob Goodspeed’s working life ended with his leaving his job of three years as engineer on an 80-foot yacht, the ketch Dragon Lady. The owner had decided to sell her, thus evaporating the four jobs aboard. I thank Bob for his willingness to outline his work life in 20th century Boothbay.

Tilton’s Rolling Grocery and Burleigh Hill

“I came home and worked for Bernard Tilton on his rolling grocery in the mid-1950s. I went with Bernard, who drove the truck, on a route that ran all over, up the River Road and down to Ocean Point. I’d go in the house, take the order, come back and gather the items. The job ended down at Ocean Point at dusk during the last stop. We were both in the house delivering an order on a side street. The owner said, ‘Does your truck have lights?’ Bernard said it did. The owner said, ‘It just went by the window.’ We went out and found it had rolled right down into the ocean. We called to get a lift back to the Harbor and to order a wrecker to retrieve the truck.”

Merle Greenleaf told Bob about a carpentry-handyman job at Burleigh Hill for owner Lester Rhoads, who was starting a sailing camp. Bob worked there for a year before it opened since there were a number of construction projects, such as building three bunkhouses and shower stalls for 30 children. Plus Bob worked on the house and barn. Mace Carter built the float and run, while Curly McLellan and Bob built the railway. Rhoads bought the camp sailboats from a Long Island yacht club. When they arrived on cradles on flatbed trailers at Knickercane, the seams were all opened up. Bob worked on them for two months and towed them to moorings, and they came to alright. He could step the masts from the dock.

The driven well was crooked and shallow. Bob had to start a one-lunger engine and then shift the belt over to the pump in order to pump the water to the tank in the attic. They drilled another well for the bunkhouses and showers for the kids. Commercial kitchen equipment was costly—gas range, refrigerator, and freezer and a cook to use them. What with all the outlay, Rhoads didn't have money to pay the taxes after the first year. Bob suggested Rhoads sell stumpage and that paid the bills.

Bob stayed at Burleigh Hill for six years, maintaining the buildings, boats, and equipment. The camp functioned in July and August. It shut a few years after Bob left.

Outside Machinist at Shipyard

Next Bob got a job as an outside machinist with Harvey Blake at the Fuller shipyard on the site of Washburn & Doughty in East Boothbay. The yard was building fishing vessels that were subsidized by the federal government. Most of them were steel; some were wood. Bob heard that Fuller even furnished work clothes and paid to have them laundered. “He knew everyone by their first names, Al did. He’s the only feller I ever seen walked around all the time with a book in his hand and I couldn’t figure out what it was. He set it down one day when he was talking, and it was ‘How to Build Wooden Boats.’ He was paying BIW [Bath Iron Works] wages at the time. Grandfather and sister were the ones who put up the money for Al to get the boatyard and build boats. But he was losing money for every one he built because he would underbid Harvey Gamage across the river; Harvey didn’t pay BIW wages; Al Fuller did. Eventually grandfather and sister weren’t going to put any more money into it.”

Eliot Winslow

That’s where I met up with Eliot Winslow. He used to come over there and take the vessels out on trials and do the compass settings. I happened to see him one day; he was coming up through and I said, “I see you got an ad in the paper for an engineer for the Argo.” He said, “Yup.” I said, “Well, this place here isn’t going to last much longer so I’m applying for the job.” That was the spring of 1967 when he hired me. The Argo was hauled up over to Sonny Hodgdon’s yard. They were putting a new Caterpillar engine which Wes Alley was in charge of. I was over there to help him. We had to get her all ready so he could start that summer to do trips. They hurried to get everything done, get the bottom painted, this, that, and the other.

Practical Jokes to Pass the Time

Unknown to Eliot, one night Sonny Hodgdon went down there. The keel of the Argo had a steel plate on it, and it was resting on steel on the ways. Sonny went and tapped the keel to the cradle in places that night. Well, next day we were supposed to go overboard. Sonny didn’t say anything. So he says, “Okay, put her down now.” So she started going down and got to where she was supposed to float, but she never floated. She just stayed there. And Eliot says, “For Christ’s sake, what’s wrong? Is water coming in or what? Haul her back up!” So they hauled her back up. They looked through the boat and everything. “No, everything’s okay.” “Well, put her down then. She’ll float this time.” No way. She just stayed right there. I could see Sonny Hodgdon’s face and he had the biggest grin. When they hauled her back up again he said, “Eliot, I tapped her to the goddamn cradle so she couldn’t float.” “You son of a bitch!” Eliot said. That was Sonny Hodgdon for you. He always played a trick on somebody. And I laughed to kill myself.

We used to do towboat work with the Argo. When we had tankers to go up to Wiscasset to the Mason Station, they were all foreign tankers, I’d take him out, he’d be the pilot and I’d take him out to the sea leeward on the Sheepscot and put him aboard to pilot the tankers. I was with Eliot 25 years.

Following his time with Eliot Winslow on the Argo and tugs, Bob retired after about 53 years of working at: a dairy, Reed’s shipyard, caddying, two stints at Sample’s Shipyard; in the Navy, then National Guard; Leavitt’s Garage, on a yacht as engineer, for a mobile grocery, as a summer camp handyman/maintenance man, at Fuller’s shipyard, and finally as engineer on Eliot Winslow’s vessels.

Oh, I forgot — he lobstered on the side. Phew — take a rest, Bob!