BROOKLIN – Early this summer I met up with lobster fisherman/boatbuilder Wade Dow of Brooklin and I must have sat with him for nearly two hours discussing all sorts of topics. Intermingled in this conversation were memories of his childhood, family, events, and life in Brooklin. Before leaving I asked if he would mind sitting down and letting me interview him as he remembered a lot that had been forgotten by many, which he readily agreed to do.

When asked what it was like to grow up in Brooklin, Wade said, “Considerable different than it is now. Just a small rural town that everybody knew everybody. There were very few houses in this big 175 circle that goes all the way around the town. Everybody knew everybody here. The families were tightly knit. They helped each other. They recognized them as being family even though they might be a third cousin. If they were sick the family pulled together and did all they could to take care of them. It was a different way of life, people cared for people, especially family and they knew their family from generations back.”

Wade’s father was Kenneth Dow, who grew up in North Brooklin. He added, “My mother was born on Naskeag on the back road that goes out, follows the shore, and goes up through the woods. She was a Bridges and my grandfather came from a long line of Bridges that were in this town at the time. Her mother was a Gray, which there is a ton of over in Sedgwick and Brooksville.”

Kenneth worked together with Morris Bridges and operated a fish weir off Flye Point. “They lived on Goose Island, which is about a one-acre island attached by a bar to Flye Island,” said Wade. “They both went lobster fishing and the weir was right there on the ledges that are fairly bold. It was easy to drag the stakes and rails and the brush down over because it was steep, but it wasn’t much fun to drag a 14-foot skiff up over as there was no harbor there. We lived on Goose Island because it was a good place to go lobster fishing out of and it was only a quarter of a mile to the weir which they had to tend every morning when the tides were right. So, for the first 12 years of my life, I lived on Goose Island, all except winter months. We used to stay there until December. When I started school back up North Brooklin, my grandmother’s old place, she’d take care of me and I’d go to school and weekends I’d go back to the island. It was a way of life that was really pleasant to me but it was a hell of a lot of work because there was nothing to sustain life on that island. You had to lug everything that you needed, and it was always low water. After a while, the stop seiners started cutting into the weir fishermen pretty bad because they were getting the majority of the fish. It got so about all they were getting out of that weir was their bait and bait for about half a dozen fishermen. I think fish was $1 a bushel or something like that. That weir was a lot of work to do by hand. It was quite a big weir. It got to be more than it was worth. Finally, about ’54, or something like that, they let it go down and they didn’t bother to build it again. So, then they were just left lobster fishing out of there which there again, you had to come up with your bait and lug it up over the ledges, put it in a bait shack, lug it back down again and put it aboard the boat, low water again. We would go into Gus Heanssler’s in Sunshine take some lobsters in and gas the boat up and get some bait, quite often we would just crate them up and Gus would send the boat up once a week and buy the lobsters from both Morris and my father. I think Fred Heanssler started and then he got out of fishing and Basil took over. There again, that was a lot of work. They didn’t have anything to hoist them aboard, just had to drag all 12, 15, 18 water soaked wooden crates up over the side of the boat by hand. Weigh them up on a rolling boat on a set of old-fashioned platform scales. There was not one thing that I can possibly think of on that island that was easy.”

In 1957, they left the island as there was a lot of sickness in the family. Wade explained, “My grandmother broke her hip and was in a nursing home the rest of her life. My grandmother Bridges had leukemia and my mother fell down and broke her shoulder. It wasn’t the best time in the world. My grandmother had to go to Boston for blood transfusions every other week for 5 years and she passed away in 1960.

“In the meantime,” continued Wade, “my father had bought this piece of land and there was an old house up where the green one is now, right next door to mine. He decided that push had come to shove and he was going to have to do something because that house in North Brooklin was going to have to be sold for nursing home bills. She didn’t have any amount of money and the state would pay the bills, but she couldn’t own anything. They actually took the house when this one was just framed up and we lived at my grandmother Bridges house where Eric (Wade’s younger brother) is now one winter. The next winter we lived in place just between here and the corner. It was owned by another Bridges; her father and my grandfather were cousins. She lived in Portland and taught school down there so she said, ‘I am not using that house, why don’t you go live in there?’ Of course, my grandmother and grandfather was living there too and Eric was just 3 years old so we moved up to this place. During that winter, we hired an old guy that had been a good carpenter all his life but he was getting older and he didn’t want to navigate ladders and between him and me and my father we finished off the inside of the house and moved into it in 1958.”

By this time Wade’s father and Morris were fishing out of the property Ken had purchased in the mid-‘60s, the present home of Bridges Point Boat Yard. The land comprises 18 acres with 1,400 feet of shore frontage. “One old guy from South Blue Hill approached us one day,” said Wade, “and he said, ‘I wonder, you fellows haul your boat up here, I wonder if you’d haul mine up?’ He was hauling up where Benjamin River is now. Two guys had bought the old yard off Frank Day and one of them, he left a little bit to be desired, and Ronald hired him to cover his boat. In the process of putting the frame up to hold the tarp. This guy drove nails right down through his wheelhouse. He says, ‘I will leave the boat off all winter before I will haul it up there again.’”

Wade and his father were using rolls to get the boats out and placed in the field for the winter. Harry Hopkins was a good neighbor and he knew Wade’s mother and father well, and he came up with the idea saying, ‘You know wheels turn a lot easier then rolls. Why don’t you widen out a set of truck wheels?’ “He showed me how to weld,” said Wade, “and I got my welder and a set of torches, got some pipe, and widen out some truck wheels and put them under your cradle and just strap them on. I made up a couple sets and we used them down there for a couple of years. But the big thing was we just hauled them straight up and down the shore. If we are going to haul other boats, we had to rig this thing up so we can steer it. So, I rigged up a tongue on one set so we can steer it then we could put them up in the field. Once we hauled his boat and the word got around and the first thing we knew we had 20 of them. That is where it started.”

This solved a much bigger problem; the town had revalued all the property in Brooklin and the taxes on this property doubled.

As Wade was working his way through school, he was fishing, but during the off months he worked other places. In 1958, he went to work after school and on Saturdays for Arno Day who was operating a yard at the present location of Brooklin Boat Yard. Wade added, “I was working there when Joel took it over, that was in ’61. Then I worked for Joel, I think one spring after that. In the meantime, Morris passed away and he had a 26-foot boat that Arno had built for him in ’56 or ’57. Now, this is going to get inter woven so you probably can’t make any sense of it. After Morris died his widow wouldn’t stay in the house by herself and of course she and my mother were best friends. My wife and I had been married a little over a year and we were living with her father so I bought the boat and the traps from Gertrude, Morris’ widow. My mother told her if you won’t stay in that house alone, we have got a spare room, so she moved down with my mother and father and my wife and I moved into her house. We lived there until I built this one, we are living in now.”

Wade worked another time with Arno Day, when he was at Billings Diesel & Marine in Stonington building the PALMER DAY II. “Doug Haskell and I became friends quite quick,” said Wade. “We worked together a lot on that boat and she was raised deck and the forward guard came back and stopped at the beginning of the raised deck, but the stern after guard kept right on going and went 2/3rds of the way to the bow. Then there was this one guard that came down on the one from the forward deck and join into the one that kept on going up by. These were big guards. That thing was 50-feet long and the guards were 4 inches wide probably 2, 2¼ inches thick and they had a 45 on each side with a little flat place on the top. Arno had a template he had made out of a piece of wood. We had a piece of oak about this wide and I think it was 12 feet long. Doug and I had all we could do to pick it up to put on the bandsaw table and saw two of them out. Doug and I together had about 6 hours getting that sucker out, getting the angles cut on it which had to be mostly done by hand. I went to work one morning and Arno said, ‘This would be a good day to put them guards on.’ I took one and I went up on the port side stood there on the stage and held it up and it had to be cut on an angle so that each piece had the same angle on where it butted on the forward guard but where it came down onto the top of the one that kept on going, it had to be cut to fit on over the angle. Also, it had a little bend to it and I said that bend is going to change everything. I sat there about an hour and I tried everything. I made a few marks on it and I finally laid it down on the stage and I went down and I said ‘Arno, you are going to have to find somebody that is a better boatbuilder than me to put that piece on.’ He kind of looked at me as much to say what is bothering you. I said, ‘I don’t know how much that is going to shorten when it bends. We have got 6 hours for 2 men in getting that out. There is a lot of money in it and I don’t want to spoil that guard. I said, ‘I’ll quit before I will ruin that guard.’ He said, ‘I got plenty more stuff here you can do,’ and I bet he had both of them on in an hour.”

“Getting back to the boat yard,” said Wade, “we charged $60 back then, haul, store and launch but it certainly helped out on the taxes. Everybody pitched in and we hauled their boat. Then one of the fishermen, Clarence Matthews, he, and I worked for Webber’s Cove one spring after I got done at Joel’s. Matthews had worked over there several years through the government contracts building the Navy boats and he had mastered the art of fiberglass pretty well. He and Billy Grant finished off a couple of fiberglass hulls up to Billy’s house. I worked for them one winter and Billy really wasn’t into it. Clarence said, ‘We could build some boats, if you will build a shop down your place and I would go and work with you.”

Wade thought about this and agreed that it would be a good idea. He was able to buy a steel building a neighbor had. Matthews, he was in on it too. We then went down to see Harold Lothrop (builders of the Repco) down Gouldsboro. Those 30 footers were flying out through the door and told him we’d like to finish off a hull or two and he said, ‘How many do you want? I could probably give you 8 or 10.’ No, I only want 1 or 2 something to do in the winter. ‘I will give you the name of people who have called me.’ So, we were in the finishing fiberglass workboat business in a heartbeat.”

Over the years they finished off more than 30 hulls. The biggest was a Duffy 50 for Bill Sargent. This one would not fit in the shop and had to do it in a plastic shed. Wade added, “As it got into the early ’80s all of a sudden it got difficult to get a hull to finish off. The hull builders wanted to finish the boats to keep the crew on because they couldn’t sell a hull a week in the early ‘80s. We were lobstering summer and fall so it was kind of hard to advertise the finishing of boats while we were on the water. I had the idea that we ought to have a mold of our own. We tossed it around as to what to build. I said, ‘I think we ought to look into building a sailboat.’ Well, they all thought I was crazy. I went down to see Eric and Eric said, ‘I think you’d do better if you went through Joel, his name would give you a little boost.’ I sketched out something I wanted it to look like, similar to a Sea Sprite. He looked at it, we talked at some length, and I asked, ‘Would you be interested in drawing one up for me?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I guess I could work one in.’ He called up a month or so later and said, ‘I have got something I just penciled out here, come down and look at it.’ I went down and looked at it. I said, ‘Joel, you’ve got the sheer to low. Well, he said, ‘A nice looking traditional boat doesn’t have high sides. I said, ‘Yes, but I am not going to be selling these to people like you. I am going to sell it to the general public and probably wouldn’t care if she was 4 feet off the water. I want a little more head room and I want a little more free board. I’d like to have her raised at least 3 inches.’ Oh, he was horrified, he said ‘I can’t do that, that would spoil her.’ I said, ‘What are you thinking?’ And he says, ‘I will do 2.’ I said, ‘I am not going to fight over an inch.’ I went back and we looked at it. I said, ‘That didn’t really spoil the looks of it, did it?’ And he says, ‘It didn’t help it, but it didn’t spoil it either.’ I said ‘Draw her up. Make it a working drawing.’ This was probably about ’83. What you see on the wall there that is one of his pencil drawings.”

This was the birth of the Bridges Point 24. Eric built the plug while Wade went lobstering and musseling. “I’d come in and empty my pocketbook on his bench down there,” said Wade “and when he was done the plug it belonged to me. He did all the fairing. He got her good and fair. This was a pleasure boat and I wanted it to look good. I got to give him credit, he did a hell of a job.”

Over the years he sold 82 of these great daysailers. A testament to how good a boat she is was when Joel and his Steve came down took her out for a sale and came in and asked when Wade could get them a hull. Wade and crew finished the plug off, laid up two hulls and then decided to lay up another white hull. This hull went unsold for more than five years when they decided to move it into the shop and Peter Buxton built a deck and cabin on it and then made a deck mould. I had some options. I could build a wooden cabin on it or I could build one of the pointed cabins. We now had a full fiberglass boat and we started selling more of them. Then came 1990 and the economy hit the skids and you couldn’t sell a sailboat. At that same time lobstering was coming back and Glenn (Holland) had built the 38-foot mold and we never missed a clip we went right to finishing Holland 38s. I think we finished 5 of them. About ’95 the sailboat project came back and when that came back, it came back with a bang. We were back ordered 3 years and I wouldn’t promise one any long than that. It went well until ’08 when Bernie Madoff got his fingers in the pie. We had two going and three on back order and when we finished the two in ’09 then the last two and the third one cancelled and that was it. The phone never rang again for about two years. In the meantime, I let the crew go and I went lobstering, which was pretty good. We also were doing repair work and we had enough storage customers. After four years I only had one call that was really interested in a boat. I called Jock Williams and asked him, I said, ‘Do you know anybody that might be interested in my molds?’ He said, ‘I might.’ and he came up one day and looked everything over. He said, ‘Well, I don’t want to get into it, but I have got a guy working for me named Bill Wright he might be interested in it.’ He and Bill looked it over and they laid up the first hull or two there and then Bill split off and went down where he is now (Tremont).”

When asked about the boats that he had owned or had been in the family. Wade explained, “My grandfather had a boat that Alan Cole built and my grandfather helped him. They built it up in a little shop that my father used to paint buoys and build traps in, it was right out behind the house up there in North Brooklin. She was 23 foot with a spray hood and a one lunger. My father went with him for a while. My grandfather Dow got something they called consumption (tuberculosis), and he died at 43 years old. My father took the boat and he fished right out of North Brooklin. That led to him teaming up with Morris and starting a weir and going to the island. My father sold the 23-footer to Morris when he bought TRANQUIL SEA in 1941. Morris got rid of the spray hood and put in a 4 cylinder Universal and built a little cabin on her. He fished in that thing until he had the 26 Arno built.”

TRANQUIL SEA is still in the yard and unfortunately did not go over this year. She was built at Webber’s Cove Boat Yard by Frank Day in East Blue Hill in 1938 for a lady from Blue Hill. Wade’s son Forrest used the boat for a number of years and then he purchased an Arno Day designed lobster boat, which he has been fishing ever since. Wade added, “That is the best workboat that Arno Day ever built. She is a very comfortable boat to work out of. A lot of Arno’s boats were rollers including the 26-footer that I had. That one would roll you upside down.”

Wade’s first boats was the 26-foot Arno Day he got of Morris’ widow, which he named FORREST & MELINDA. Then he finished off a Repco 30 for himself, which he owned for seven years. She was named TRANQUILITY. Wade explained, “I had a 453 with a straight pipe in it. The summer people started complaining and I said, ‘I think that would be an appropriate name for them to refer to.”

His next and present boat is a Holland 32, which he modified the looks of.

Like most from this era Wade lived a hard life, but it gave him family values, a work ethic, and ways as to how things should be done. It taught him also how to do anything you might need to do. Unlike today you could not look something up on the internet and get it done or mailed to you. It was a very different time, but one that many wished would return.

Wade Dow sitting at his deck at Bridges Point Boat Yard in Brooklin.