French Canadian Pulp & Paper Worker
Old Town, Maine 1938
WRITER Robert F. Grady
Edited 2/27/2000 by Matthew Pelletier, Magloire's great grandson
Mike Pelletier, 66 years old, was born in Old Town, Maine in 1873. His father was born in St. Hubert(1), Quebec. The latter came to Old Town in 1865. Mike has a wife and 13 children; 8 boys and 5 girls. The girls are all married. The youngest boy(2), who works in a CCC camp, is the only one of the children not married. Albert worked as a weaver in the woolen mill for a long time. When that shut down he obtained work as a spare hand in the mill where his father works. One boy works in a filling station in Berlin, NH(3). One works in a filter plant in Fitchburg, Mass(4). Another works in a plant that makes varnish(5) out in some mid-western state. One, I think he said, was a mail clerk in Pittsfield(6), Mass. Mike has lived in Old Town all his life and on the same street. Mike started in at the public school at the age of 5 in 1878, and transferred to the convent school in 1885. Finished his school education two years later in 1887. Thus he went to school 9 years and stopped just short of the high school. He is, however, a very well read man, and could pass for a well-educated person. Mr. Pelletier worked on the boom for one reason after he finished school in 1837 and that fall when the boom closed he went to work in the Great Works pulp mill where he has worked ever since. Mike is a Catholic. He is about 5 feet 10 inches tall and probably weighs 185 pounds, has good teeth, thick gray hair parted on one side, and is one of those fortunate men who never lose the enthusiasms of youth. He is a very interesting talker, is 66 years old, but looks to be 50 and acts as though he were 30. Both he and his wife look as though they get a lot of honest enjoyment out of living. Mike is the kind of man you would call by his first name.
Mike Pelletier is a remarkably keen minded man and such a rapid talker that it is quite a task to remember all he says. Once he gave me so many figures and dates all at once that I had to ask him to go over them again slowly so that I could get them down. A stenographer would surely be a great help in interviewing him.
Mr. Pelletier's home sits very near the road - in fact I was told once that his sun porch was really on city property, and that if the city wished to widen the streets he could be compelled to remove the porch. The houses sit close together there with only driveways between, but the lots, which run back quite a ways, have plenty of space for gardens. The house is a story and a half in height. It is well painted and is in excellent repair. Hardwood floors inside covered with thick rugs. The rooms are very neat and clean and are well furnished. There is a wide davenport in the living room, two tables, two floor lamps, four or five chairs, and a piano. An accordion rested on the floor near the piano. Because the davenport was against the hall door of the living room we had to go through a long hall, into the kitchen, and back again through another door into the front room. In the kitchen were Mrs. Pelletier, a daughter who has been separated from her husband, and a boarder named Bill Rioux(7). Rioux, an old acquaintance of mine, is a French Canadian who worked for a long time in the woolen mill. He hasn't worked since the mill shut down, but people say he was always a saving person and can afford to loaf the rest of his life.
I had gone over to call on Mr. Pelletier in the afternoon, but as I neared the house, Rioux, who was just leaving, told me that Mr. Pelletier, who works by night this week, was asleep. As Rioux and I walked back down the street I told him something of the work I am doing and asked him if he thought Mr. Pelletier would be willing to tell me a story.
“Sure he would”, said Rioux. “He'd be glad to and you couldn't run across a better man to tell you what you want to know.”
While Mike and I were talking that night he apologized and jumped up to leave the room.
“I'll have to go down and close up that furnace,” he said, “or it'll drive us out of the room.” He said he used coal in the furnace and oil in a kitchen range.
When he came back from the cellar he said, “My wife asked me who you were. She said she had seen you somewhere, but couldn't exactly place you. I told her she ought to know you - Bob Grady.”
I know Albert, one of the boys, and a daughter, Clara, by sight, but to the best of my knowledge I had never seen either Mr. Pelletier or his wife before that night. As I hadn't mentioned my name I wondered if the man had clairvoyant power, and out of curiosity I asked him how he knew my name.
“Know your name?” he replied. “I've known you ever since you were born in that house your father built over on Perkins Avenue. I knew your father, Nick, too. He worked down there in Great Works on the filters. Nick and I and the Hunts - you remember them - were about the only people who lived down this way once. Yes indeed, I know you all right.”
Mike said he'd be glad to have me call again, but he didn't think he'd have the opportunity to talk until next Monday afternoon (the 30th). He said he'd be working from 6 a.m. to 12 noon that week and would have plenty of time in the afternoons and evenings. Friday evening of this week (the 27th) he said he had to attend a reception of honor of his granddaughter who is to marry a chap named Coffin(8). This Coffin, who also works in the pulp mill, became a Catholic in order to marry the girl. Because of the larger number of guests the reception will be held in the K of P hall. He mentioned some activities he would be engaged in that would prevent him from granting me an interview Saturday or Sunday evening. I think he said he had to attend a lodge meeting Saturday. I told him that the later date would suit me perfectly because I had to write up the interview.
“That's okay, then,” he said. “You whip that into shape, and we'll get together again next week.”
MIKE: “My father lived on a farm in Canada. He came to Old Town from St. Hubert, Quebec, in 1865. The first place he worked was in a sawmill in Veazie that was owned by General Samuel Veazie who built the old Veazie Railroad between Bangor and Old Town. That Veazie road (he refers to the street now known as Perkins Avenue along which the railroad ran, long after the tracks were torn up the thoroughfare was known as the "Veazie Railroad"), was twenty feet higher than it is now when the railroad ran along there. It was much narrower at the top and wide enough only for the rails. The rails in those days were known as 'strap rails', and they were made of wooden timbers with strips of iron nailed on the tops. After the rails were taken up they cut down the road bed to its present level and used the dirt to fill in around that part of the town where you live (South Brunswick Street). That used to be low and swampy there. Down here where my father lived (Pine Street) was practically in the woods. There used to be drifts down here some winters fifteen feet high, and the only way they could get uptown was to use skis or snowshoes.”
“Father couldn't speak English very well when he landed in Old town. The French Canadians never had any trouble getting jobs around here, though. There were a lot of French to help them out with the language, and a lot of the bosses were French. They got $1.50 a day in the saw mills in those days, and they had to work fifteen hours a day. There weren't any lodges or societies around here then - not for the French, anyway. After a man had worked fifteen hours a day about all he felt like joining was a mattress. There was no labor saving machinery in sawmills then, you understand all the work was muscular. Nowadays logs are fed to the gang saws by automatic feed rolls, but in the old time saw mills they had to be 'spudded' against the saws. They had to get their shoulders against the spuds and push for all they were worth.” (The “spuds” sometimes used in woods work now are probably the same as those referred to by Mr. Pelletier. They are used in place of cant dogs and are sections of tree trunks varying in diameter in proportion to the service they must render. They are used as prys and may be anywhere from two to four inches in diameter.)
“They used rotary saws to cut dimension (2x4, 4x4, etc), and gang and single saws to cut boards. The single saws were also known as 'muleys.' The gang saws and the muleys were vertical saws that run up and down. They were moved by a wooden arm and crank arrangement that got its power from a water wheel. The lumber they sawed in those mills might have been used anywhere - across the road or across the ocean. It was sold to any one who wanted to buy it no matter where he was located.”
“The people who worked fifteen hours a day in those saw mills had blame little time or inclination to plant gardens, as you can well imagine. Twenty five or thirty years later, when they had to work only ten or twelve hours, they began to raise a little garden stuff.”
“Wages were low then, but so were living expenses. You could get a rent for from three to five dollars a month. $2.25 paid for a cord of four foot wood, or you could go out here and cut stumpage for 35 cents a cord. You could get a barrel of flour for three or three and a half, and a quarter of beef or pork at four and a half cents a pound. The way those fellows did was to buy a lot of provisions to last them through the winter, and if they didn't want to go to the woods, they could sit back and smoke their pipes until spring with the chance that they could pick up a few odd jobs here and there while they were waiting for the mills to open in the spring. They would be broke when the winter was over, but they wouldn't owe anything - at least not very much - and they knew a job was in the offing.”
“The diseases they had in those days were about the same as we have now, but the doctors had different names for them. Appendicitis used to be called 'inflammation of the bowels,' and if you got that there was slim chance for you. Doctors have more knowledge now than they formerly had, and we don't have the severe epidemics of cholera and black dyptheria that used to carry away so many. Jim Portier, who used to live over here, lost six children in a week because of black dyptheria. There was an epidemic of small pox in Old Town forty years ago. They had a pest house out where the old trotting park used to be. The last epidemic of large proportions that we had here occurred about the time of the influenza epidemic during the World War(9). There wasn't a great many deaths then, but it's safe to say that if it had happened sixty years ago, ten times as many people would have died. The doctors have a lot of long names that nobody can understand for diseases now, but when you come to think of it medicine has come a long way in the span of a lifetime. Hundreds of children wouldn't die now because of an epidemic, and a case of appendicitis wouldn't be pronounced incurable.”
“That church on Water Street was moved up there from Great Works in 1870, and that was all of ten years before Father Trudel arrived. Father O'Brien was the priest here then. (Father Ouellette said he 'thought there was an Irish priest here about that time.') Nicoli and Bapst were two other early priests. Nicoli, Bapst, and O'Brien, had more than one parish to look after. Sometimes they had to go as far up as Millinocket. Father Trudel did it, too. It was Trudel who built the piece on the front end of that church. He christened me, too.”
"If that convent had been there when I started to go to school my parents would probably have sent me there, but that place was put up only fifty-four years ago. I was one of the first scholars there, but I attended it only two years. By that time I had graduated from the grammar grades.
“After I left school I worked on the boom until it closed in the fall. That was in 1887. I rafted logs all summer for fifty cents a day. A boom is a long line of logs tied or chained securely together end to end. The ends of such a boom may be tied to piers or to some point on the shore. A boom like this might have fifty different uses. It could be used to guide logs toward a mill pond, or to keep them from drifting out after they got there. However when people used to talk of working on the boom they didn't mean a line of logs like that. By the way a 'main boom,' or double boom, was made to two lines of logs wedged together so that a man wouldn't have to be an expert to be able to walk along it. A boom that run along the shore was called a 'shore boom' or shore logs. What I was going to say was that the boom at Pea Cove was operated by the Penobscot Log Driving Association. Logs were floated down stream from the woods during the spring drives and trapped in a jam at Pea Cove. Those logs were all marked with the owners special marks, and the job at the boom was to sort out those logs and raft the different marks together. The small 'joints' were combined in long rafts and floated down from the boom to the mills of the various owners. You might start down river to Bangor with a long raft, but if some of the logs were for mills in Old Town or Orono, all you had to do was kick out the wedges while the raft was floating along and shove the proper joints over to where the mill boom would guide them to where they were supposed to go. The gaps in the main raft would be pulling the sections together."
R.G. “By the way, Mike, the boss asked me the other day what a 'dingle' was, and I told him it was where they kept the horses in the woods. Later on I thought that was wrong. What about it?”
Mike: “If you'd ever taken horses to the dingle and left them all night, the boss would have explained what it was the next morning. A dingle is a storehouse for meats and provisions. You were thinking about the 'hovel.' The wangan was a kind of little store where tobacco, socks, mittens, thread, and stuff like that was sold. The timekeeper, was also the clerk of the wangan, slept there, and there was always a spare bunk for the main boss. The cook had a bunk in the cook room where the crew ate their meals, and the blacksmith and the saw filer, the cook, the head chopper, the timekeeper, and the scaler felt superior to the common woodsmen, but if they were good fellows they tried not to show it. If a man was good, though, he was always respected no matter what he worked at.”
“When I quit work on the boom - or rather when it closed - I got a job in the pulp mill in Great Works. That was fifty-two years ago and I've been there ever since. I worked in the yard for five years and on the chipper for one year before I went inside. That mill was a pretty small place then compared to what it is now.”
R.G. “Some one told me you helped to build the foundations of that mill.”
Mike: “No, I didn't. They must have got me mixed with some one else. But I know quite a lot about it just the same. There were some of us standing around down there one day when Clapp was there. He was the owner of the mill and a millionaire several times over. He was looking at a dryer and he says to Wentworth (the superintendent), 'I wish I could remember how long this dryer has been in here. I suppose I'll have to get them to go through the records in Boston to find out.'”
'There's no need of going to that bother, Mr. Clapp,' I says, 'That dryer was put in there in the summer of 1889.'”
'H-m-m,' Clapp says. 'You seem pretty sure of your facts young man.'
'Yes sir,' I says, and I went on to tell him how long it took them to set the dryer up, who the boss of the crew was, and what they said it cost to do the work.'
'Gosh,' Clapp says, 'there's no need of keeping records as long as you stay here.'
"I told him a lot more about different things in the mill, he wanted to know about and he copied it all down in a book. After that whenever he wanted to know anything about the place, he always came to me.”
"There was a News reporter in there last summer. Wentworth was showing him through the mill and they stopped in the evaporating room where I was at work. You must remember reading that interview in the News. That 'grissled veteran' that the reporter spoke about was me."
(I couldn't remember the interview when Mr. Pelletier mentioned it, but later I did. It was an account by Henry Burton of an interview with Walter Wentworth, and it must have occurred late in June or early in July. I remembered it particularly because a week or two afterward I interviewed Mr. Wentworth at his home to get some material for the "Lexicon of Trade Jargon" assignment, and Buxton's interview was mentioned. Wentworth was amused by Buxton's reference to the "horse and buggy days." Mr. Wentworth is a familiar figure on Old Town's streets where he may often be seen sitting primly erect in his buggy while an employee, who drives him to and from the mill, holds the reins.)
“Wentworth says to me, 'How long have you worked here, Mike?'
'Fifty one years, sir,' I says.
'Well, well,' the reporter says, 'that doesn't look as though they fire people who are over forty five here!'”
R.G. “I thought I had heard of all the rooms in that mill; the evaporating room is one I can't place. What do they do there?”
Mike: “Well that is where the water is taken out of the liquor that has been used in the digesters. When that reporter (Buxton) was in there last summer Wentworth asked me to show him some of the water that was removed. I dipped some out in a dipper and handed it to the reporter.”
'Why,' he says, 'it looks clear enough to drink. Do you mean to say this water came from that black liquid down there?'
'Yes sir,' I says, 'the water has to be taken out before we can burn what is left.'
“That liquor is made up in the soda room and pumped to the digesters where it changes the wood chips into pulp. From the digesters the liquor goes to the wash room, then to the evaporating room and back to the soda room where it is used over again. You see it keeps going around and around. During the evaporating process the carbon is burned out of the liquor and the liquid that runs out of there to go back to the soda room looks just like molten lead.”
“That work used to be done in the three large rotary burners. (I remember now seeing those burners. The three of them, one next to the other, were individually as large as - or larger than the bodies of large freight locomotives. They were heated by coal fires underneath, and they were always revolving. The burning liquor appeared inside as a white hot, molten mass I always thought they were rotary furnaces.)
"Last winter they installed a new type burner that replaced the three old rotaries . That new burner cost a quarter of a million dollars and it saves the company $5000.00 a week in operating costs. It produces 40,000 pounds of steam in an hour, so you can see there is quite a saving right there. In this new burner the fuel used is the liquor itself and that saves in fuel cost. It is only the carbon in the liquor that burns. The rest of it goes back, as I said, to be used over."
Mike: "Let's see, the first time you were here I told you my father came to Old Town from Quebec in 1865, but I didn't tell you how he came. He and his wife and their fourteen(10) children came down from St. Hubert in a covered wagon something like the ones used by the old forty niners. It was hooped and covered with canvas. You used to see one of those around here once in a while. They came down through Rivière du Loup, Edmundston, and Madawaska.
"I was three months old when my father moved over here to Pine Street. When you came over here tonight the road had been plowed out down almost to its surface and so had the sidewalk: you didn't have to wade through snow. In the old days there was no sidewalk and sometimes the snow was six or eight feet deep on the level. More than once I've seen my father come up that road dragging a homemade sled on which he had a barrel of flour. He hauled it all the way from uptown. The road was narrow, and scrub pine, birch, and alders that grow close to it, made an arch overhead. They didn't have any street plows in Old Town then: they used to hitch a short, heavy log behind a sled and let it roll along to break out the road. The best sidewalks were made of planks. The walk on Main Street was fairly wide in the business section, but from the lower and down to Great Works it was only two planks wide, and they were set far enough apart so that people could pass without getting off the planks. Sidewalks that weren't planked were pretty bad when the frost came out in the spring. The roads were bad, too, at that time of the year, especially in the low places. We used to see teams on Main Street deep in muddy ruts. In the summer the roads were smooth enough, but they were covered, in some places, with dust two or three inches deep.
"My father worked in different saw mills around here. One of them was built right across the river between the lower end of French Island and Old Town. All those rocks that make the current rough there, are what is left of the foundations of that mill. It was burned thirty four years ago. Shad Rips, on the Milford side of the island, got its name from the shad that used to run there. The people used to catch them with seines. The shad don't run there now because they can't get over the dams.
"Where Jordan's Mill is now on Water Street there used to be a small machine shop run by Tim Chapman, the father of Fred. When Chapman moved his business across the river to where it is now, Mose Jordan started to saw "headings" in the former machine shop. Headings are the tops and bottoms of barrels. Across the street, over the store where Morin had his pool room, Strickland and Pearson had a molding mill. Bill Page was the foreman. Jordan kept increasing the size of his plant until it included a saw mill, a box mill, a casket factory, and a molding mill. They started making wooden moldings about the time Strickland and Pearson went out of business.
"If you interviewed Ovide Morin you know that he lives on Bosworth Street, but do you know how it came to be called that? Bosworth is not a French name. Old Charlie Bosworth's father - you remember Charlie, the fellow that had the wooden leg? - used to make caskets over on that street and they named it after him. The caskets he made weren't very fancy affairs: they were made of soft wood and they sold for six or eight dollars. If you wanted something a little better in hardwood, it would cost you a little more. George Draper, I remember, kept a place over there called "The Old Tavern."
"Water Street was a pretty wild place after the drives came in. Those drivers used to race down from the head of Indian Island. The redskins had a cannon over there and when that wild gang got in sight the Indians used to fire it off for a signal to the whites. A lot of people used to gather on the shore to watch them land. There were eight in a boat and when those boats hit the landing some of them would go nearly all their length up on the shore. The drivers made for Water Street the first thing, but they had to get by some people, like 'Humpy' Mischou first, that were trying to drag them in to sell them suits of clothes. 'Humpy' worked for Fred Allen and he was quite a character
"I've seen free for all fights going on on Water Street all the way from the bridge down to the last saloon. Those fellows would get drinks and they'd start to remember words that had passed in the woods. Every word had to be accounted for. About all the police could do was to stand back and let them fight it out.
"I can remember quite a few of these old river men the Sweet boys, Jo Nichols, John Latneaux - he was Alex,' the ex-mayor's father. They were around fifty years ago and some of them could do things on logs you wouldn't believe could be done. I've seen Jo Nichols take a 'clapboard cut' and spin it end for end in the water, ("Spinning a junk" was described in an article on the boom that I wrote last fall.) A clapboard cut was just a thick log as long as a clapboard that they used to cut clapboards from. The log wasn't rolled in the ordinary way, you understand; they used to spin them end for end. Once they got it started, they'd keep it going.
"There used to be a saw mill in Great Works. It was right where the company power house is now. I've seen more than one driving boat go through that sluice and strike the white water at the other end. People used to go down there to watch the rafts go through; it was quite a sight. They used to think it was great sport to ride the rafts from Old Town down the river to Bangor. People like the Smiths, the Rogers, and the Hinks, with plenty of money, used to bring lunches down in boxes and board rafts for the sail down river. Nobody objected, least of all the people who worked on the rafts. It was just good company for them. Going over the dam was where they got their biggest thrill. The rafts, of course, didn't go over the falls: they could have been broken up that way. The boats went down through the sluice, but the rafts went by way of the apron. The main part of the dam dropped off sharply and the current ran pretty fast through the sluice, but the apron sloped down very gradually. It was quite a sight to see the rafts of shipmasts go through. They were about seventy feet long, and of course they had to be rafted lengthwise. They used birch poles in rafting the shipmasts because they had to be careful they didn't break apart. There was a lot of money tied up in one of those rafts.
"It wasn't only logs and shipmasts that were floated down. The sawmills used to make up rafts of dimension, and on those they would pile boards and smaller stuff such as clapboards, laths, and bunches of shingles. They were floated down to the docks in Bangor where they were broken up and loaded on to vessels. When the water was high early in the year they could make the rafts bigger and heavier. I've seen them 150 feet long and 50 feet wide. A raft of that size represented a lot of money.
"On the dimension rafts that carried the smaller stuff, they used to bore two holes at the front end and drive in posts that kept an 8x8 from slipping off. This piece of timber ran along the front end and the boards were piled with one end of them resting on that. It had the effect of tipping up the front end. The rafts were steered with sweeps fourteen feet long and tapered up to a point at one end.
"You used to see a lot of logs 'hedgehogged' along the shore in the fall. Sometimes there would be as much as 10,000,000 feet ahead. Those logs stayed there all winter, and in the spring the mills used them to run on until the spring drives started to come in. The only drives we see around here now are pulp wood drives. They used to dry all the wood they used here (to make pulp), but now they use the wet stuff, too.
"Speaking of the apron on the dam reminded me of a queer sight any one can take in down near the Veazie Dam. Those sea gulls will alight on the water about fifty feet above the dam and let the current carry them down the runway. Just before they got to the rough water they'll go up in the air and fly back to where they started from. They are like a bunch of kids, sliding. I've stopped a couple of times over on the Bradley road when I was driving down to Bangor to watch them.
"It's funny that I've lived here all my life, but my boys are scattered all over the country. That picture on the wall there is one of Rudolph, my oldest boy. He is in Missouri now working in a varnish plant(11). He was on a torpedo boat in the navy during the World War. He was over there when the German fleet surrendered to the British. That photograph on the piano is one of my youngest boy(12): he graduated from the high school last year. This year he is at a CCC camp. When the boys get finally settled, maybe they'll take after me enough to stay put.
"I have belonged to the Catholic Foresters for the last thirty years, and my wife and I have been in the Grange for twenty-five years. When the Knights of Columbus got their charter here I was too old to be anything but a charter member in that so I never joined it. I have a life insurance policy in the Prudential, though.
"Those accordions under the table belong to me and the wife. We played at WLBZ when that station first started and maybe we'd be playing there now if it wasn't so far from home. Accordion music was something of a novelty on the radio then: people liked it. We played at the first Auto Show in Bangor, and whenever the Grange has an entertainment, I guess they'd think it strange if we weren't there to play. Guess I've played the accordion for fifty years. If I gave you a list of the songs we played, it would be a long one. We could probably play all night without having to repeat anything. We always played the music of the day. Those I played fifty years ago were songs such as Over the Waves, Turkey in the Straw, The Irish Washer-woman , and others of that type. Any music is good if it's played right at the proper time. I like all of it.
Mike: "All right, let's go. I wish James folks were here now. You'd get a lot about Old Town from them. James and his family were visiting us last summer, and we took them around to a lot of places in the car. He is the chief of police in Valley Park, Missouri(13). He sat with me out there in the sun porch with the windows open and a breeze blowing in, and he says to me, "Mike, the breeze from that pine wood is wonderful! We never get anything like that in Missouri." I'd been living right near that wood all my life, and I never thought anything about it. We took them down to Bar Harbor to the Thunder Hole, and down to the coast to dig clams."
Mrs. Pelletier: "James enjoyed that clam digging: it was something entirely new to him. We had a clam bake on the shore. He gets a big kick out of photography, and he took a lot of pictures down there."
Mrs. Pelletier stepped out of the room for a moment to return with a box of prints and enlargements made by James. In several of the scenes the entire group had been photographed, and Mr. Pelletier explained that James camera was equipped with a time arrangement that enabled him to focus the camera and join the group before the shutter was snapped. The enlargements, which were about as large as sheets of typewriting paper, were especially good. Among the prints was a picture of Thunder Hole, several taken at the scene of the clam digging, and one taken on Indian Island.
Mrs. Pelletier: (pointing to the picture taken on the Island) "It was very funny. Mrs. James asked one or the Indians if the natives ever got wild. She meant, or course, if they ever went on the warpath or scalped people. The Indian said, 'A few of us do, madam, but only on Saturday nights.'"
Mike: "James thought living so near the hunting and fishing regions was great. He said they had to travel two or three days to get a chance to hunt where he came from, and the season lasted only three days at that. He was pretty enthusiastic about this place, and he said that when he started on his vacation next year he wasn't going to stop anywhere enroute, but that he was going to come straight to Old Town."
Mrs. Pelletier: "It's no wonder they liked Old Town so well. We were out there in Saint Louis once. That is such a smoky city! If you put your hand on a rail outdoors you get it sooty, and the bricks in the buildings are not red, but black from soot. The smoke doesn't rise like it does here: it settles down near the ground.
"We liked the trip on the bus. Those drivers are such smart young men! We never had to think about our baggage."
Mike: "I enjoyed watching those drivers cut around corners in New York City with those big busses. We went on the Greyhound Line. We went through the Holland Tunnel and across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. On the way back we came by the southern route through Virginia. At the end of the run I noticed there was a mark on the back of the drivers coat where the back of the seat had pressed against it.
"And speaking of travel reminds me of something about Old Town. When the Maine Central first run here it was called the European Railroad. The Bangor and Aroostook was called the Bangor and Piscataquis, and it run from Bangor to Greenville. Later they run the trains to Bangor around the other way and the trains from Old Town connected with them at South Lagrange. That train was called the Hump backed Express because the conductor, Jim Elder, was humpbacked. The Bangor and Aroostook tracks were torn up five years ago, and the people who owned lots along the right of way shared in that land. They tore up three of the bridges up above here, and where their roundhouse was in Hartwell there is now a trailer camp.
R. Grady: "Do you know anything about that old house that Chester Robbins repaired?
Mike: "That old house on Chester Street used to be called the Sawtelle house. George Harding's wife, who was a Getchell, inherited that place, and Harding sold it to Robbins. Some people say the land belongs to the Maine Central, and some say the city owns it. The house was about ready to fall down, and every one thought Robbins, who has a lot of civic pride, was going to tear it down to rid the town or an eyesore. But instead of that he started to repair it. He put on an expensive roof, built new foundations, and put in new windows and so forth. I understand he intended to make the place over into an inn, but for some reason he didn't complete the repairs. Maybe he thought he'd lose money if he started a hotel -there are so many overnight camps around here. That would have been a good location for a hotel, though, as it's so near the station.
The kids have smashed out most of the windows, and it probably wont be long before it looks as bad as ever."
Mike: "That sawmill of General Veazie's where my father worked was before my time. I know he worked there, but I couldn't describe it. In the winters they never used to remove the snow from the roads; they just broke them out. The people would just shovel paths from the door to the road.
"At those kitchen breakdowns we used to have whatever kind of music there was available. Somebody might have a fiddle, or maybe it would be an accordion or a Jews harp. Sometimes we sang songs. If there wasn't room for square dancin', we'd dance clogs. We used to have straw rides, too, but I guess they kind of went out when the automobiles came in. About twenty of us-or ten couples-used to fill a hayrack with straw, toss in a barrel of beer, and set out for some farmhouse. I've gone on more than one of them out to French Settlement-West Old Town- or Pushaw Pond. When we went to French Settlement some one would go out around to all the farms and collect as many people as they could to join in the fun. We sang songs, danced, played games- like postoffice -drank the beer and had a good time generally."
"I was out fishin' once with a fellow and we forgot to bring any bait with us. We didn't know just what to do about it, but I saw a snake with a frog in his mouth, and I says to my partner, ' If we only had that frog it might do.' 'Watch me get that," he says, and he pulled a bottle of whiskey out of his pocket and poured some into the snake's mouth. The snake dropped the frog, and we used that for bait. Well, after we caught a few fish we started to look around for some more frogs, and what did we see but our friend the snake with two more frogs in his mouth that he was bringin' to us.
"I told that story to Mayor Cousins at a Grange meetin', and he says, 'M-M-Mike, I d-d-didn't know you d-d-drank.' He's an awful man to stammer. He's not so bad when he's with just one, but when he's talkin' to a crowd he's pretty bad.
There's been just three changes in the work in the evaporatin' room since I went to work at Great works. When I started work there they used to burn the liquor by hand. Then they put in those three rotary burners. The automatic burner they have now is the best of them all.
"I've seen some bad accidents down there. Jo Gallant was down in the basement when a digester started to blow. The collar came off a valve and the digester blew right in the basement room. When we cleared away that pulp we found Jo on his hands and knees against the wall. His flesh was cooked so much that when we tried to pick him up, the flesh came off in our hands. You probably remember when old Henry Curran got his sleeve caught when he was oilin' a shaft. Before they got the power shut off every bone in Curran's body was broken.
"Those epidemics that used to carry off so many children couldn't happen now because the doctors know more about takin' care of sick people. They have serums that help to keep diseases from gettin' out of control now.
Old Doctor Folsom brought me out of the black diphtheria. He used to stamp around with that wooden leg of his. One of his legs was out off so that the stump was just long enough to strap the wooden leg to."
"I never saw any trouble or fights in the woods, but I saw a couple of bad accidents. They have men workin' around the blacksmith shop makin' sleds, and one of these fellows had a sled runner between his legs and he was hewin' away at it with an ax when the ax slipped and cut his knee cap right in two. I saw another fellow get his leg crushed with a log on the landin'. That was up at Brandy Pond, about 18 miles above Costigan. They had to haul those fellows out to the railroad station at Costigan, and from there they took them to she hospital in Bangor. There wasn't much they could do for those fellows in the woods except to do a rough job at settin' the bone and put splints on the leg, but I suppose that had to be done over again when they got the fellow to the hospital. With that split knee cap all they could do was to bind it up to stop the bleeding, and get the fellow to Bangor as quick as they could.
"There was seventy five men in that crew where I was. On rainy days the'd sit around playin' cards--poker, for matches or beans, or high-low-jack. Sometimes they'd have some clothes to darn or mend, and sometimes they'd grind axes or make ax handles. I've seen as much as a barrel of ax handles ahead. They made some pretty good handles just with an ax and a jack knife and maybe a piece of broken glass.
"To play poker if you didn't have any money you could go to the wangan and get a can of smokin' or a plug or chewin' tobacco. The banker in the game would give you ten or fifteen beans for that, and if you still had the beans at the end of the game, you could get your tobacco back. A bean represented one cent in merchandise. The men were supposed to boil their clothes every week or two on Sunday, but some of them didn't bother. We used to build a bonfire down by the brook, and put the underwear in a boiler full of water over the fire.
There was always some one that collected spruce gum that they kept in a cloth bag. They'd make a dollar or two sellin, the gum to some drug store when they got down river in the spring.
"Beans were cooked in bean holes mostly on the drives, but sometimes they cooked them that way in the woods. You see on the drives the men were always on the move, and they couldn't very well carry a stove with them and keep takin' it down and settin' it up all all the time. They knew where those bean holes were along the shore, and all the cook had to do when the rear went by was to hop into a boat with his pots and pans and provisions and row down to the next bean hole.
"We used to cook about ten quarts of dried beans a day for those seventy five men, and that would be twenty quarts of cooked beans. The bean hole was about two feet deep and three feet square, but I've seen them four feet square. We lined the hole with rocks to hold the heat, and then we threw in some wood and got a good fire going. When there was plenty of hot ashes and coals in the hole we raked them away from the middle and set in the bean pot. Then we raked the coals and ashes back over the iron pot.
That pot had an iron cover that fitted on tight. We never had to add any water because that cover kept all the steam in. We filled the hole in with ashes. The beans cooked in about twelve hours and they had to soak about twelve hours before they were put in the hole. We used about a pound or pork to a quart or beans, and about a cup of molasses, to color the beans, to ten quarts."
Mike: The only fruit we ever had for the table in that camp was stewed prunes. We had salt cod and plenty of beef. Sometimes we had pea or bean soup or beef stew. We always had doughnuts, and sometimes the cook wouldn't use the bean hole; he'd just cook the beans on top or the stove in the iron pot.
"On those clammin' trips we always brought a little something to eat along with the clams. It might be bread, crackers, cake, pie-anything that any one wanted to bring along. Green corn, on the cob, is pretty good cooked along with the clams. You just cook it right under the seaweed. You always have to take something along to drink for there's no fresh water down there at the shore. A lot of people make tea or coffee when they're cookin' the clams. You don't have to pay anything to dig clams--just find a good place and go to it.
"They have clam hoes to dig the clams with, but I always used a garden spade. One of those, you know, with four prongs on it. The way we baked the clams was to find a flat rock and build a fire on it of driftwood to heat it up. When the rock is pretty hot you rake the ashes off and just lay the clams on the rock with some seaweed over them. I suppose the clams are really steamed because there's a lot of water in them and the steam forces the shells open. The water drops down on the hot rock and makes a lot of steam too.
Mike: "When I started goin' to school there were just two schools here: the McKinley School up there next to the city hall, and that little one down on Main Street that Mitchell made over into a house. There was just two rooms and two classes in that school (on Main Street): one upstairs end one down. The McKinley school, where I started in, was a lot bigger. They had four big rooms,--two up and two down-and the hallways and coat rooms were big. There were two grades in every room except one where there were three. Those were what they called the intermediate grades-- 3, 4, and 5. There were two teachers in that room -one was Fannie Murphy. Frank Averill's sister, Gertie, taught in one of the rooms upstairs for a long time before she went to work in the post office. That McKinley School was a two story, wooden building with a brick and granite basement. They used coal in the furnace to heat the school. There was fairly modern plumbing in the basement, but there weren't many houses in town then - even the best ones - that had sewer connections. There was no drinkin' water piped inside, but there was a good well in the yard. There was no fire escape on that building, but it would be a pretty modern school even today. The seats were about like what they have nowadays, and everything was hardwood inside. That McKinley School burned flat soon after they built that big Helen Hunt School on Brunswick Street. That was named for a teacher that taught here for a long time. Now they have that Helen Hunt School and the Herbert Grey School and a high school in Old Town, besides the convent and a school in Great works (ward 5) and one on French Island. Of course there are a lot of little country schools outside the city.
"About the only story I can think of right now about when I went to school is about a boy named Fortin. He was pretty wild, and they had to expel him for actin' rough and swearin'. He threw a book and hit Miss Edgerly right in the face. She was a daughter of that Dr. Edgerley that used to be here. George Sewell was the superintendent of schools then, and he came down and expelled Fortin.
"I don't think anybody carried a lunch then because we all lived right in town. The kids that lived out in the country had their own little schools then, but they've closed some of them because it's cheaper to bring the scholars in to town in busses than it is to run the little schools. That would have been pretty hard to bring the kids in sixty years ago because they had no big, fast busses or good roads like they have now.
"The convent is the only wooden school they have now right in the city. I went there the last two years I went to school. They had no plumbing in that then, but they have now. They had a pump in the yard too, but they did away with that. The city condemned most of those wells some years ago, but the city water is treated with chlorine and it's all right to drink.
One of my chums, Freddie King, was killed when he was seven years old. He was out swimmin' and he dived in and struck his head on a rock under the water. I wasn't there when he got hurt, but I went to his funeral. He lived just three days and his head swelled up to twice its proper size. Charlie King was his father.
"I never had a bicycle when I was a boy--I was afraid to get on one. All they had here then were tricycles and those with a big wheel in front. You could get an awful flip on one of those things. There was just that small wheel behind, and if it struck a rock, you were apt to get tossed right over the handlebars."
R. Grady: I thought those bicycles went out long before you were born." Mike: "No: they had them around here then.
"I was the oldest boy at home, and I helped quite a lot with chores around the house. I shoveled paths in the winter and helped some in the garden in the summer, carried in wood, and brought in water from a pump in the yard. Father always raised some tobacco every year. Some of the leaves on those plants would be 18 inches long. He used to cut the tops off so the plants would spread out more. He started them in a hot bed so they'd have a little longer growin' season.
"When I was ten years old I used to go out in the woods with father to help out the years wood. We took our lunch and stayed all day. We'd build a fire at noon and heat up whatever we had. It was usually meat or egg sandwiches and some kind of pie or cake. We used to carry a bottle of tea that we'd heat up out in the woods in a big tin can that we kept for that. We cut ten cords every year - that's what we used in the house. What we cut one winter, we'd use the next.
"When I was a kid I was too busy to have any ambitions. I had some younger brothers and sisters, and I had to help father to support them. When I got that job in Great Works the only ambition I had was to stay right there as long as I could." (He's been there for 53 years.)
R. Grady: "You evidently had an ambition to get a pretty nice house for yourself."
Mike: "Yes, I got this house, such as it is, and it's all paid for, too. I own two lots across the street where my garage is, and I generally have a garden over there every year. I got a Dodge car in 1928 and last year my wife swapped it for a new Plymouth. She made the deal and I didn't know a thing about it. We took a trip up to Canada that year to see a cousin of mine who runs a garage there, and about a week after we got back this fellow drove into the yard with a new Plymouth. 'Is that your car," I says, when we were sittin' here in the kitchen. 'No', he says, 'that's yours! and she's a sweet runnin' baby.' 'Mine?' I says, and he says, 'Sure, ' and he told me how my wife had arranged to turn in the Dodge when we were up in Grand Isle.
"That Dodge was in pretty good shape. Of course it pumped oil, but all it needed to stop that was new rings. When he left here to go home in the Dodge he says, 'Do you suppose I'll make it?' We got a postal from him that he mailed the next day. He left here at nine in the morning, and he got to Grand Isle at 5 o'clock that night, so the old Dodge must have traveled right along. I like this Plymouth though. You can get that up to sixty miles an hour and it rides smoother than the Dodge used to at thirty. I never run a car in the winter, and I guess that Plymouth will last me as long as I live.
"I was twelve years old when I learned to play the accordion, and Home Sweet Home was the first piece I learned. I played the harmonica when I was ten. Father played the violin, and Lewis and George played the Harmonica.
Louis(14) played the accordion some, too. Some of those old pieces we used to play you never hear now, and I don't know where anybody could get them, if they could at all. There was Peek-a/Boo , Rock-a-bye-Baby, Man in the Moon, Speed the Plow, and a lot more like Over the Waves and Turkey in the Straw that didn't die out.
"We used to have a lot of parties in those days, and we generally had a good time. The expense was so small that it wasn't worth mentionin'. We used to play Post office, Spin the Plate, Play the Cushion, Catch the Rat, Blind Man's Bluff and The Turn Over Game. In that last one two of them used to lay down on the floor head to head and on their backs, and lock legs together and try to turn each other over. The girls used to play it, too. They'd wear bloomers or put on an old pair of pants, and some of them were pretty good at it. I've seen them turn some of the men over. Spin the Plate, Blind Man's Bluff, and Catch the Rat were kissin' games. They'd take a plate and stand it on edge and give it a spin. If you could catch it without knockin' it flat, you could kiss the girl, but if you missed the plate, you had to take a turn spinnin' it. In Catch the Rat they had a handkerchief tied up to represent the rat and you had to pick out the one that had the handkerchief. Everybody knows how to play Blind Man's Buff and Post office. In that cushion game they used to put a sofa cushion on the floor behind some one. The game was to sit down before some one could pull the cushion away.
"We used to have candy pulls, too, and molasses candy was a great favorite. They used a cup of molasses to a half cup of sugar, a little salt, some vinegar, and a spoonful of butter. After that cooked a while they set it on the back of the stove to cool off a bit, and then they stirred in some soda to make it foam up.. Then they'd take it out and pull it until it started to harden up. Some people used butter on their hands durin' that pullin; and some used flour. That pullin seemed to make the candy grainy and less glassy. It had about the same effect as kneedin' dough, I guess. Sometimes at those parties we had ice cream, and we always made that at home in a freezer; it wouldn't have seemed like a party unless we did.
They used to make maple sugar around here, too. George Gardner has a sugar house now out near his cottage on the road to Pushaw Pond. They had big pans to put the sap in, and they'd build a fire under them to boil the sap down. Once they started sugar makin' they kept it up day and night until they got through. There were three stages in that boilin' process. They got maple syrup from the first- that's what George Gardner makes, mostly- soft maple sugar candy in the second, and maple sugar in the third. They had moulds in the shape of banks, churches, dolls, and so forth that they used in makin' maple sugar candy.
"You were sayin' something about superstitions the last time you were here. About seventy years ago there used to be a brick house down near the river below Wing's Mill. That was a 'bad' house, and there was a ledge along side of it that ran right down to the water. Some people named Miles lived there. My father said somebody told him they looked in through a window one night and they saw old Miles, with black gloves on his hands, dancin' around the room. The queerest part of that place was the tracks in the ledge that led from the door down to the edge of the water.
There was an awful deep hole in the river bed right there. I've seen those tracks myself and I've walked barefoot in them. They were the tracks of a man and you could see where a dog had walked alongside of him. Right near the edge of the water there was a place scooped out of the ledge so that it looked like a seat in the rock. I don't know how that got there. It couldn't have been worn by the water because it was too high up for that. It's pretty hard to account for those tracks in the ledge, too. They were all of three inches deep, and I've seen them myself. That was all of sixty years ago. That ledge is all covered up now with dirt and saw dust. People used to say that it was the devil that walked across there.
"Then there was the old Burnham house on Main Street, half way between here and Great Works, that they said was haunted. Nobody lived there, but at night people said that sometimes you could see lights goin' from one room to another.
I've heard my father tell stories about Canada, and some of them were facts.
"When they started a new village up there they used to bury people under the church until a cemetery was made ready. There was a girl died up there, and her folks noticed that her flesh stayed soft. She was buried under the church, and when it came time to dig her up to put her over in the cemetery, her mother said she'd like to have the coffin opened so she could see her daughter again. They opened that coffin and they found that the girl had turned over on her face, and that most of her hair had been pulled off and the ends of her fingers had been worn down to the bone.
She evidently had woke up out of the trance she was in, and as long as the air held out she struggled to get out of that grave. There was another story about a woman that died, and when they were havin' a funeral service in the church she sat up in the casket, and then got up and walked home. The undertakers never used to embalm anybody then, and I suppose the doctors didn't know so much as they do now, either, and sometimes people got buried alive.
"There was a story about two brothers that lived some distance from the village store. One of the brothers was down at the store one night, and when he was there the other one told his mother he was goin' down the road a ways to scare him when he was comin' back. He was a kind of wild actor, and he got an old cowhide with the horns on it and pulled it on over his head and waited behind a tree near the road until he saw his brother comin' home. The other brother saw this figure with the horns comin' to meet him and he picked up a fence rail to defend himself. He hit his other brother right between the horns and laid him out on the road and then he ran home and told his folks that he had killed the devil. The old folks had an idea of what had happened and they ran down the road to look. They found their son laying there with his head smashed. Accordin' to the old story they weren't able to get the horns off the boy's head, and they had to bury him that way. He'd played the devil so much that he finally turned into one.
"There was another story my father used to tell that he thought couldn't have happened, but with what we know now about radio waves we can see that it could have been possible. Sounds are carried around the earth now on waves of electricity, and there's no reason why they couldn't have been then. Accordin' to the story, some people were sittin' on a porch one night, and they heard the sounds of oars in rowlocks. It sounded as though some one was rowin' a boat up in the air. Then they heard a Shout: 'LOOK OUT! THERE'S A ROCK AHEAD! Now the people in that boat might have been a thousand miles away, and the sounds they made might have been picked up and carried along by electricity in the air and attracted to that spot by some natural magnet in the rocks. Back in the old days they said things like that were the work of banshees."
(On a previous visit to Mr. Pelletier's home I asked Mike to describe the improvements that had occurred in his room since he started work there. He described three processes in detail, but, as I said before, I couldn't remember any part of them. This time I asked him to describe only the first one. He did that but he went on and described the other two as well, so I was just as bad off as before. Guess I'll have to ask him to write out the account or those processes.)
"That work is a lot easier now. When I started in there I had to work ten or twelve hours a day for only $1.25. Now I work six hours and I get three times as much pay. My wife went down to Bangor today to some sale and Bill Rioux is uptown, so I'm all alone. However I put up my own lunch anyway. My wife used to ask me if I didn't want her to get up and get my breakfast, but I told her to stay in bed. I could get breakfast and put up a lunch just as well as she could. There was once I was puttin' up six lunches includin' my own.
"My wife and I are goin, to play at a grange meetin' in Bangor Tuesday night, but we'll have to use our old accordions. I sent for two new ones to Montgomery, Ward, and Company, but when they got here I found they weren't matched. When we play on those old ones you'd think it was just one instrument, but I knew the minute I touched the keys on those new ones that they were different keys. The keys are supposed to be stamped on a little tag that goes on top of the accordions, but those didn't have any. However I should think they would have known out there that the two weren't matched. All they had to do was to press down on the fifth key. That gives the key to the accordion. I suppose some shippin' clerk saw they looked alike and thought they were alike, but if you played two like that together it would sound pretty bad. I like a C or a D because they go better with a piano".
(I reminded Mike that he had promised to play the accordion for my other boy if I brought him over, so he obligingly led the way into the living room and picked up one of the instruments. He played the lively Turkey in the Straw and then he told the boy that he had time to play just one more before it would be time for him to get ready to go to work. "My boy," he said, "I know you're tired of listenin' to old Mike tell stories, and you'd like to be home playin', so I'll play one you'll be glad to hear---good old Home Sweet Home!")
Mike: "I guess the reason father left Canada to come to Maine was because a lot of other people had left there and he had heard that there were more jobs over here and better pay. I never heard him tell of any unusual experiences on the trip down. That took about five days. I remember now he did say that one night one of the kids felt scared because the place where they stopped to sleep was in the woods. (Mike said before that they had come down in a covered wagon.) The roads were pretty bad then. That country wasn't built up very much then and a lot of the route lay through woodland.
"We travel a lot in our car in the summertime. Out in Missouri that time we went to see the Lindbergh trophies in the memorial building in Saint Louis. Say, about everything you could imagine was there: diamond pins, watches, cups, and the Lord knows what else. All given to Lindbergh by admirers of his. There was so much stuff that he couldn't possibly keep it all and he left it in this memorial building. Anybody could spend all day there just looking over these things. It doesn't cost anything to go through there.
"We go out berry pickin' every year. Last year we got sixty quarts of raspberries up at the Jordan cuttings. They used to be thick a few years ago over at the radio line, in Bradley, but that place is all growed up now. It's pretty well growed up too out at Pushaw Pond. Those places last only about three years. We always take out a few sandwiches for a lunch and a little drinkin' water. We could have got along without a lunch last summer, though, out at the Jordan cuttings. I never saw such big berries. We filled our pails in no time.
Mrs. Pelletier: "It took me longer than that, though, to put them up.
"Mike and I played over at the convent as a social Sunday night. That was given for Father Ouellette."
Mike: "He's a fine man, and well liked here."
Mrs. Pelletier: "We played the accordions and there was violin and piano music. There was no dancing."
Bill Rioux: "There'd be no room for dancing in a school room."
Mike: "Well, they wouldn't have danced, anyway, on Sunday night. There was a few speakers, and after that we had some light refreshments in the shape of cake and coffee."
Mrs. Pelletier: "There was some dancing, though, down in Hampden Monday night when we played at that grange meeting. We didn't get home 'till four oclock in the morning and it was five before we got to bed."
Mike: "That dancing was just to keep warm. I played the accordion for about an hour while we were waitin' for the bus to come along and pick us up.. There was about 300 grange members down there and I guess the feature of the evening was the clam chowder."
(I mentioned that I had seen Mr. and Mrs. Pelletier's names in the paper after they had played at the Father Ouellette social but that I didn't recognize the names at first because "Michael" was spelled "Magliore.")
Mrs. Pelletier: "Mike's name is really 'Mitchell'. I've always spelled my name 'Pelletier,' but he spells his 'Pelky.' It's funny up on the voting lists they have me down as Mrs. Catherine Pelletier and him as Mike Pelky.
I heard that old mill(the Old Town Woolen mill, which has been shut down for two years) has been sold. They say they're going to junk some of she old looms and put in automatic worsted looms. I heard, too, that it was going to be a powder mill and an aeroplane factory. I wish that mill would start - it would be such a fine thing for Old Town. But I'll believe it two weeks after it starts up.
(Albert came in about here to tell about the accident to his wife, and Mrs. Pelletier left to go over there.) Mike: "They don't have any of those straw rides and breakdowns like I told you about the last time, now. They went out when the automobile came in. The young folks, now, go to dances and the movies. The older people go to bridge and whist parties. Some times the young folks have parties where they play postoffice. Those old games like 'Spin the Plate' would make a hit with them. I know it because we've tried it out right here.
"We go to card parties once in a while, but I don't believe we've been to the movies twice in the last year. Those 'love pictures' are no good, but I like a good western. I don't read much now, but I used to like western magazines and stories. When I was a kid I never got enough of those wild west yarns. In the Bangor News I like the sports pages and 'smiles for breakfast.' They have some good jokes there.
"About the only woods work around the state now is pulp cuttin: the big stuff is all gone. When they used to cut that big stuff the head chopper would spot the trees ahead of the sawyers by cuttin a little spot of bark off on the side that the trees were to fall. Then the sawyers would saw them down. Sometimes they'd get two or three logs out of one tree. The head swamper planned the direction of the roads, and swampers would out the trees down as near the ground as they could. They'd throw the brush to one side and fill in holes in the road with short logs. The logs that the sawyers cut were hauled to yards and piled up there. One sled tender always worked with every teamster. After the logs were yarded they were hauled on sleds to landings near the brook or river that would carry them down to the boom in the spring. Woodsmen and log drivers worked from daylight 'till dark. The drivers had a longer day because the days were longer in the spring and summer. They slept in tents, and sometimes they rolled up in the blankets with their clothes wet. It was a hard life and men had to be plenty tough. They never had colds. You know we were talkin' about bean holes the other night. You could generally find one of those near 'rips' for the drives were usually slowed up in those places, and they were generally where the jams occurred.
"On those brook landings sometimes they'd pile logs right on the ice, and sometimes they'd pile them along the shore. I've seen logs piled fifteen feet high against two trees. In the spring they'd cut those trees down and let the logs roll into the water."
Bill Rioux: "I've never seen that done, Mike."
Mike: "Well, I have. Right up here on Beaver Brook."
Bill Rioux: "It must have been a job to cut those two trees down."
Mike: "It was dangerous work. In the spring those logs were floated down to the boom and the work of raftin' began. Two or three hundred men and boys worked there when I did, but the number kept dwindlin' down every year until finally the work stopped altogether. There was a lot of logs piled up in a jam back of the gap, and a lot of different companies owned them. All the companies had their own marks and they used a different kind of mark for every kind of log; that is, pine, cedar, hemlock, wad so forth. Those marks were cut on the logs up in the woods, and the logs were supposed to be rafted with the marks up. Those marks were something like the brands they put on cattle out west. 'Diamond, rabbit tract; flyin' goose; cross two notches, and so forth.
"There was an openin' in a boom in front of the jam that they called the 'gap," and the logs were pushed down through that gap and rafted along a double boom they called the 'shore logs' that reached down the river half a mile or more. All the rafters had to do was to raft the logs together with wedges and a rope. The checkers stood out on little jiggers made of three or four short logs wedged together and hooked with a short rope to a line that stretched from one end of the boom to the other. Every checker had his own 'beat' and every beat was made up of 'joints,' or rafts. The checker rolled the logs while they were floatin' by him and pushed out the ones that were supposed to be rafted on his beat. The logs they missed were rafted in a 'stray raft' at the end of the boom, and pulled back upstream when the raft got large enough. When the rafts on the different beats got large enough they were 'dropped off' in a 'swing.' The men who handled the swings didn't do anything else.
"All they have now on the river is pulp wood drives, but they're nothing like the old ones. The pulp wood is cut four feet long and peeled in the woods. The boom is a thing of the past. Last year about 40,000 cords of pulp wood came down the river to Great Works, and 60,000 came by train. They haul it all the year around in trucks. They used about 500,000 cords last year. You see they have 50,000 cords in just one yard, and they have several yards down there.
"Say, I thought of something since the last time you were here. I guess it would come under the head of superstitions. When I was a kid they used to have treasure seekers here. The story got around that there was treasure buried somewhere along the river, and people used to pick out likely places to dig for it. There was a medium over in Bradley, here, and some fellows got the idea that she might help them. They went over to see her and she went into a trance and finally described some place where she said there was some treasure buried. Those fellows found what they thought was the place and started to dig. Finally they unearthed a pail with a metal cover, but when they got the cover off all there was in the pail was something that looked like a lot of leaves. They were pretty sore and they throw the pail away and went back and told the medium about what happened. 'You fools,' she says, 'one of you broke the spell. You had the treasure in your hands, and you threw it away!' According to the story if any one spoke before they got the treasure in their hands, it turned out to be worthless, and that's what the medium meant when she told them that one of them broke the spell.
"Those stories were all about the same pattern. I've heard a lot of them. Some men went down the river a ways to the tide water and started to dig there. They came to a chest and one of the men shouted, 'WE'VE GOT IT!' That, of course, broke the spell, and they found the chest was empty. Pretty near the same story was told about a party that dug up here near Eva's Point, opposite Indian Island."
Bill Rioux: "I remember hearin' about that. It happened about seventy years ago."
Mike: "I guess nobody'll ever dig up any treasure around here, but there must be alot of stuff buried here just the same."
Mike: "Well, my name is Magloire Pelletier. I suppose that sentence ought to be at the first end of the story instead of the last end, but it's better late than never. Mike is a nickname that they call me for short. My last name is Pelletier, but sometimes I spell it Pelkey. Mitchell is just the English way of sayin' my first name.
Bill Rioux: "They'll think Mike is Chinese, puttin' the first part of his story last."
Mrs. Pelletier: "Well, I guess I was to blame for that. We thought that mistake was very funny."
Mike: "It was funny, all right. Now that social that was given for Father Ouellette was given to mark his twenty years as a priest. There must have been seventy-five or a hundred people there and besides those speeches I spoke about, we had a little piano music and my wife and I played the accordions. We had a lunch of coffee, cake, and sandwiches. That stuff was all made by the women of the parish.
"A few weeks ago we had a whist party over there in the convent to raise money for the school. Besides the card playin' we had some movin' pictures. There was a priest there from Lewiston, where Father Ouellette came from, and he had one of those home projectors and some moving pictures he'd taken in different places. There were some real good colored pictures of Montreal. One of the scenes showed a parade of priests. That was narrow film, of course. The pictures on the screen were only about four feet square. But they were good.
"That wasn't a clam chowder we had at that grange meeting: it was an oyster stew."
Mrs. Pelletier: "They always have baked beans at the grange suppers."
Mike: "Yes they do at most of those grange suppers, but down in Hampden that night it was an oyster stew. Besides that there was cake, coffee, baked beans, cold meat sandwiches, pickles, and pie. That food is nearly always home cooked.
"Those stories about buried treasure on the river have been handed down from Captain Kidd's time. In those days there were no dams on the river, and ships could sail pretty well up above Bangor. There were all sorts of stories about how pirate's sailed up this way and buried gold and treasure on the banks. I've heard that sometimes they shot a man and buried him on top of the gold, thinkin' that if the body was disturbed, the treasure would disappear. I've seen those holes myself, where people dug, right down near Webster. I've seen the marks on the rocks that they say were cut by the pirates givin' directions on how and where to dig. Those marks wouldn't help any one now, of course, because they're all in cipher.
"I don't know much about that Old Town Woolen plant except what I've heard or read in the paper. I know they had an auction and they sold all the machinery to people down in Massachusetts. A concern down there has an option on the plant, and they may start some kind of manufacturing there. That would look like a poor place for a powder mill to me. I don't think they ever have them right in town. If it blew up there'd be a lot of people killed."
Bill Rioux: "There was a powder mill blew up over in Japan a few days ago. There was a couple of hundred people killed."
Mike: "I don't think they'd allow a powder mill right in the city. The best place for one of those is out in the country. Out Greenfield way would be a lot better. I don't know anything at all about airplanes, and whether that would be a good place or not for an airplane factory, I couldn't say. You can tell them, though, I said the people in this town don't care what kind of business starts up there as long as something does start.
"None of my children learned to play the accordion except Bernice. She could play a few pieces on it. The girls all learned to play the piano, though. Clara, Bernice, and Gilbertha.
"That French Settlement is two miles west of Old Town. There's just a few farms there and a small school. That was called French Settlement because just French lived there. The Merciers, Paradis, Cotes, Martins, and so forth. They broke the ground and made that little settlement a good many years ago. Hogtown, out back of Stillwater, is another little place. A woman that used to live out there used to raise a lot of pigs, and they've called the place 'Hogtown' ever since.
"Do you know how they came to call that lower end of Great Works 'Picketville?' Some people think it must have been because some one named Picket must have lived there, but that's not the case. It's because a lot of the old houses down there were built with pickets instead of havin' boards nailed to the studdin'. You know - ordinary pickets like they use in fences about three inches wide and one inch thick. Of course they were square on the end instead of pointed, and they broke the joints when they nailed them on.
"Then there's the 'Gold Mine Road' out between Milford and Greenfield(15). It comes out on the county road. That got its name because some people found gold there. Not very much, but they were nuggets and gold sure enough. Baker Brook, out on the Greenfield road, was named for a fellow named Baker(16) that used to lumber a lot out that way. Otter Stream, on the Bradley road, was called that because a long time ago there used to be otters there. An otter is something like a seal. There's only one stream there but you cross it three times goin' along that road, and they call them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Streams. They're all the same one.
"A lot of birch grew along Birch Stream up near Pea Cove. How Sunkhase Stream, out beyond Milford, got its name I don't know. They have a story that a fellow named Hayes was drowned there a long time ago and an Indian brought some whites up to show them where the place was, and he pointed to the water and said, 'Sunk Hayes.' Of course you can't tell how much truth there is in stories like that. Maybe it's an Indian name. There's the Jo Pease Rips between Milford and Indian Island, and the 'Cook' (another rips) between Indian Island and Old Town. That 'Cook' was named for a fellow named Cook who used to tote wangan stuff up that way to the booms and drives. How they came to name one of those booms 'Nebraska' I don't know. It must be an Indian name. (I pointed out to Mike that the word 'Nebraska' didn't sound like a local Indian name, and he agreed with that. Personally I think it was called that by river men, in a facetious mood, to signify a place far away.) "Nebraska is on the upper end of the island, and the Argyle boom was on the lower end. There's no doubt that state out west has an Indian name."
(I mentioned the similarity of the names of the old Indian game 'Spin the Pan' and the one spoken of by Mike, "Spin the Plate," and how Henry Mitchell said how one of the forfeits was "measuring ten yards of ribbon. "Yes", said Mike, "and they used to pay that forfeit here, too. Sometimes it was 'twenty-five yards of ribbon' and they'd have to kiss each other every time they measured a yard."
The George Gardner mentioned in connection with maple sugar is the local postmaster. He has been prominent in politics here, as a democrat, for a long time. He used to run a store where trunks, suitcases, horse blankets, harness, etc., was sold. One of his boys runs his harness and leather goods repair shop now. George was the tax collector for a long time. He is French, and always signs his name 'Desjardins.')
Mike: "Gardner has about 400 trees out there. He sells a lot of maple syrup every year, but I couldn't say just how much he gets from those trees. He doesn't make any sugar to sell, but I guess he makes a little for his own use. He has a sugar house out there, though, and there's no doubt he could make plenty of it if he wanted to, but he gets more sellin' the syrup. Louis Mercier - and he lives out in French Settlement - does some sugar makin', and his father did before him. I can't tell you much about his business, but I know he used to sell maple sugar around here in little birch bark containers. Mercier has about 300 trees out there, but Gardner or Mercier could tell you a lot more about what they do than I could.
(This evening I went over to interview Mike Pelletier. A young fellow named Paul Cyr(17) and Mr. Pelletier's son, Albert, were there paying a visit. I knew both of them. Paul is a quiet fellow - almost every one is when Albert is around. Mike is youthful and vigorous in spite of his sixty-eight years, and Albert resembles his father. Both of them are interesting and rapid fire talkers, but Albert, with the advantage of youth on his side, did most of the talking. He's not a bore at all and he has such a pleasing and forceful personality that people seem to like to hear him talk.
Bill Rioux was holding a three year old child on his knee when I entered. They told me the child belonged to Robert Cust(18), a son-in-law of the Pelletiers. The young fellow fell asleep on Bill's lap shortly after I sat down, but whether it was a natural sleep or a trance induced by the fumes of Bill's pipe would be hard to say. The child woke up a little while after his father called to get him, and began to talk about wanting his ball back. As he had no ball with him, they decided that he must have been dreaming about one. If Albert had not been there I don't think I would have got nearly so much of the incredible story that was told that night.)
Albert: "Hello Bob. I see Jo Martin is not with us any more." (He was referring to a WPA worker who dropped dead today while waiting in a line at the city hall for an allotment of federal food. Martin was fifty years old.) "Did you hear about them closin' up Bosse down here: the fellow that runs the White Cafe? Pretty tough for him: he'd just slapped down $200.00 for a license to keep open. There was a woman went in there and told Bosse to send her husband home: he was spendin' too much time there. Bosse wouldn't do it so she says, 'All right, Mr. Bosse, I'll have this closed up.' She went to see a lawyer and the next day Guy Moors (Old Town police chief) went in there with some kind of a paper and Bosse had to close his restaurant."
R.G.: "I heard that the government had closed up that moccasin factory."
Albert: "They ought to close that place up: it's nothin' but a damned sweatshop."
Mrs. Pelletier: "I don't think they closed them up. My girl works there and she worked today."
Albert: "They haven't closed them up, but they're goin' to make them pay people while they're learnin' a trade. They made them work there five weeks without a nickle."
Paul Cyr: "Yes and they got just as much for those 'A' and 'B' moccasins as they do for the rest. They all go in together."
Albert: "Sure they do."
R.G.: "What about that old mill? Arthur Leblanc told me I would be surprised if I know who was going in there."
Mike: "All I know is that they auctioned off the machinery and that this fellow Smith, from Massachusetts, has an option on the plant until June. That option cost $5000.00."
R.G.: "Leblanc says that they haven't sold the machinery and that it's going to reopen as a woolen mill."
Albert: "You'll never see me back there if they do. I have a steady job now at Great Works and I'm goin' to hang on to it."
Mrs. Pelletier: "Steady pay down there even if it wasn't so much, would be better than high pay in the woolen mill."
Albert: "Sure it would. I hear some of the big follows are comin' down there tomorrow, and maybe we'll get back that cut. That would help out."
Mike: "It sure would; 7%."
Albert: "In that woolen mill I know how it would be. We'd work for three weeks and then we'd got laid off for three months. No thanks."
R.G.: "Is that Lincoln mill running now?"
Albert: "Yes it is - and, believe me, that is some place to work."
R.G.: "I suppose Wilbur is there yet."
Albert: "Oh yes, Wilbur's there. He's got to stay there now, because they've fired him everywhere else. The first night he worked in the new mill (in Old Town) he had four automatics, with those time clocks on them, to run. The boss looked in about nine o'clock and there was Wilbur runnin' around those four looms and the time clocks hadn't moved on any of them. 'Hey, Wilbur,' he says 'what's the matter with you? Why aren't these looms runnin'?' 'There's nothin' the matter with me,' Henry says, 'It's the damned looms: they wont run.' We went up to Lincoln for a job and the boss says, 'Now boys this is a different type of work from what you've been doin', and I'm not sure you understand it. Do you know anything about double reeds?' 'Sure,' Henry says, 'SUR-R-RE.' "Well,' the boss says, 'What are they?' 'I'll be damned if I know,' Wilbur says. The boss explained the double reeds to us, and we went to work. Those double reeds were two reeds clamped together. The front one was twice an fine as the back one. Six threads came through a reed in the back, but those six went through two in front. If an end broke out you had to press those down to find which of the reeds had only two threads, and you had to put that end through one of the reeds in front, push it over and get it through the back one. If a bit of flyins got in there and started to build up on a thread you had to reach down between those reeds. If you didn't know how to do it, it would take you all day to get that out, but those weavers had a special hook for that and they could got those things out in no time.
"That filling is so fine up there that when you fill your shuttles you have fifteen minutes before they run out. If a bobbin is left with much filling on it you have to cut if off. It's so fine it would take you all day to pull it off. Drop a little piece of that yarn and it floats down like a feather. They have a smoking room right in the weave shop and you can go in there and smoke anytime. If you got any grease on your hands you have to wash it right off. When you got your warp out on a loom you go on another one: no cleaning up. Somebody else does that and he spends about three hours on a loom. When he gets done that loom is just the same as when it came from the factory.
"They have automatic worm takeups on those looms and the first time I got a warp out I didn't know how to roll down the cloth. I didn't want to spend an hour windin' that down by hand, and I know Henry Wilbur had worked on Knowles looms, so I went over to him and asked him how to work that gear. 'Henry,' I says, 'how in the devil do you get that cloth wound down?' 'Damned if I know,' Henry says. I went back to that loom and started to fool around with that take-up and I noticed a little lever folded into a slot on the side of a gear. I pulled that lever out and whir-r-r! that cloth wound up in a second. After that I run across anything I didn't understand I didn't waste any time askin' Henry Wilbur about it.
When I got through there they were runnin' just three days a week, and to hold the crew they made them work every other week. I got a double and twist end through a wrong reed and the boss says, 'Albert, I've got to lay you off for a week.' He said he was sorry but he'd got orders to lay off weavers for a while when they made mistakes so they'd learn to be careful. I asked him if I could get my pay and he says, 'No: you aren't fired - you're just laid off for a week.' 'Well,' I says, 'if you lay me off, you might just as well fire me.' He told me that any time I wanted to come back the job was good.
"I saw old man Morton the other day. He was tellin' me how near he came to gettin' a job in Lincoln once. An old friend of his got a job up there as the boss weaver, and Morton telephoned up to him for a job. The boss telephoned back, 'Sure, sure, but I'll have some one else to make a place for you. Come up in a week.' Instead of goin' up in a week, Morton waited two weeks. He went up there and went in the mill and he saw a big fellow struttin' around the weave shop and he went up to him and says, 'Mister, can you tell me where the boss is?' 'Sure,' the big follow says, tappin' himself on the chest, 'I'm the boss.' 'Why,' Dave says, 'I thought a follow named Randall was the boss here!' 'Well, he was last week,' the big fellow says, 'but they fired him.' If Dave had gone up when Randall told him to, he would have got a job, of course. He said it was the nearest he ever came to gettin' a job without connectin.' Old Dave doesn't have to worry, though he's pretty well fixed. He just bought a new house up here.
"Say, if you're writing something you ought to say somethin' about those eagles they saw out at Pushaw Pond this winter. 'Humpy' Moore was out there fishin' through the ice with a couple of other fellows, and they saw those three eagles flyin' around. There was one big one and two small ones. 'Humpy' says they sailed around up there for two hours without flappin' a wing.
"I was listenin' to a radio program last week advertisin' Sensation cigarettes. The name of that program was Don't You Believe It. That announcer told about a lot of things that people believe that aren't true. He wouldn't name the town, but he said there was a place up here in Maine where people thought the devil had left tracks across a ledge of rock. 'Don't you believe it,' he says, 'The devil never left tracks anywhere. Those marks were made by the action of the water washin' against the ledge.'"
R.G.: "Why, that's the story you told me, Mike, a couple of weeks ago, about the tracks of the devil left in that ledge down below Wing's Mill."
Mike: "Those marks weren't made by the river water. It never came up that high. They were the prints of feet in the ledge. I've seen them myself. There was a dog's tracks right alongside of them. But how do you suppose that story ever got on the radio?"
Albert: "H-m-m, that is funny-comin' right after' you told Bob(19) about it. I suppose, though, other people besides us know about that. That program came from a New York station. That same night he mentioned that gravestone down in Bucksport where a woman's leg is supposed to appear on the stone. He didn't say 'Bucksport,' he said 'somewhere in Maine.' That was another of his 'Don't you believe its. He said there was no magic about that: it was just caused by a fault in the rock. A friend of mine told me he saw two perfect rabbits once on a gravestone. They painted them out, but they kept comin' back. They were caused by a fault in the stone. He told me about another stone he saw that had a woman with a babe on it."
(Robert Cust came in about here to get his child, and in discussing the closing of the White Cafe, Cust said that the trouble started when Bosse attached the wages of the husband of the woman who took action against him.)
Albert: "Oh, no, no. You're wrong there. You can't attach any body's wages unless he gets more than twenty dollars a week, and that fellow doesn't."
Cust: "Well, maybe he was goin' to have the fellow jugged for not payin' him. Do you know you can have anybody put in jail for the debt of a dollar if you want to pay the state a dollar a day for the fellow's board. Say, they came near puttin' my brother in jail for a debt he didn't really owe. He was managing a basketball team up here, and the boys wanted suits. There were eight of them and they went down to Bangor, and Kenny went with them. (Kenneth Cust, his brother) The boys each had five dollars to pay on their suits, but Dakin (of the Dakin Sporting Goods Company) didn't want to open eight accounts. He thought those young follows might not pay him, and he know it would be easier to collect one account than eight. Those suits cost $17.00 apiece. They had the regular pants, blouse, and sweat shirt. Kenny let them put the account in his name, but of course he wasn't gettin' any suit. Those fellows never paid Dakin a cent. Kenny was workin' up here in the woolen mill and one day Pelletier (a policeman) and Guy Moors came in with a paper. Pelletier asked Kenny if he'd like to go to jail for a while. My brother went to a lawyer about it and the lawyer says, 'Cust, you've got yourself in a jam, all right, and there's only one way you can get out of it besides payin' this bill: by takin' the pauper's oath. Do you know what that is?' Kenny said he didn't have a penny and no prospects of ever gettin' one. He says, 'You're word will be no good anywhere, you can never get trusted again."
Mike: "He'd be a sort of an outcast."
Cust: "That's the idea. That bill wasn't big enough to go through bankruptcy for, and of course Kenny didn't want to take any pauper's oath. He had to pay it. He had to pay for all, those basketball suits or go to jail. He took that receipt and went around to see those fellows. He says to Applebee, 'Look here, Bud: I've paid for the basketball suit of yours, and if you don't want to pay me for it, give me the suit.' 'The heck,' Applebee says, 'I've sold that suit.' 'Okay,' Kenny says, 'give me the money then,' 'Hell,' Applebee says, 'I aint got any money.' 'Well,' Kenny says, 'you better get some pretty soon. You fellows would have stood back and let me go to jail, and now you're either goin' to pay me or go to jail yourselves.' Applebee paid him and so did Haley and the rest. It goes to show you can get slapped into jail for a bill you don't owe."
R.G.: "Isn't a bill outlawed in a certain length of time?"
Albert: "No, they changed that law. They can collect a bill no matter how old it is."
Cust: "Bills for personal services are never outlawed. If you owe a doctor, for instance, for services rendered he can collect anytime." (Cust left with his child about this time.)
Albert: "Say, dad, you want to tell Bob about Jo Fountain's sister."
Mike: "Say, there's a story for you."
Albert: "I'll say it is - a story for any one! You should have been here last night when Anna Fountain was here. You know Anna - Jo's wife. She was tellin' us some stories about Jo's sister that died up in Canada. She died two years ago, but they never got a chance to bury her because she disappeared from the room she was laid out in. They found that body two weeks ago and her flesh was just the same as it was right after she died. The body turned up in a friend's house, and nobody knows how it got there. Now this is not something that happened seventy five years ago. The body turned up two weeks ago. Anna sat right in that chair last night and told us about it."
Mike: "There's some people up there now investigating that. They're goin' to put out a book about the girl, and when that book is published, people will have something to read: Wasn't that in Montreal that woman lived?"
Mrs. Pelletier: "No, that town is half way between Montreal and Quebec. I can't remember the name of the place - Saint Something. But Anna knows it."
Albert: "This woman was 42 when she died. She had been tempted by the devil ever since she was a child. Her mother died when the girl was young, and when they took her up to bury her over, they found that her flesh hadn't changed a particle. The girl pulled some flesh out of the side of her mother's neck and they put that piece of flesh in a covered jar on a mantle piece. Whenever they take off that cover a sweet perfume fills the room. Anna said she and Jo were up there after they found the body. She said there were 200 people in the house, and for lunch they had a ham. Anna said she sliced the ham herself to make sandwiches for those two hundred people, but the ham didn't get any smaller. She cut off slice after slice and still remained the same size."
Mike: "I'd like to get a hold of a ham like that."
Albert: "It'd be all right if you didn't get what went with it. That girl used to disappear. Once they found her in the woods, and once they found her frozen in ice and smilin' up at them. They used to find her locked in her room with the door looked on the outside. Once she was in a room that had a cross over the door. The door wasn't locked, but they couldn't get it open until they took down the cross and then the door opened itself. Once when she was in her bedroom and mattress of her bed disappeared and they finally located it up in the attic. There was only a small hole to got in that attic, and it was too small for the mattress to go through. The door of her room detached itself and went up the stairs and then the mattress came down and appeared back on the bed. Then they heard the door come down and it attached itself to the frame without any screws. You can see that door up there now. It works like any door except that there's nothing holding it on."
(It can well be imagined that by this tine I was beginning to be just a trifle flabbergasted. I know that Albert was a great practical joker, but I knew, too, that nobody could think up such incredible tales on the spur of the moment. He had no idea that I was going to call that night at his father's house. I knew that my suspicions were entirely without foundation, but nobody could listen to stories like these without expressing incredulity. I asked him and Mike if they were telling those stories in a joking way to see how much I would swallow. Mike and Albert both assured me that they were merely repeating the stories that they had heard from Anna the night before. "The stories are unbelievable," said Mike, "but nobody - Anna Fountain, may or any one else - could thing up much yarns." Mrs. Pelletier and Bill Rioux also assured me that Anna had told the tales that Mike and Albert were repeating. "Well," I said, "what about the Fountains? Why are they suddenly telling about this girl? It seems as though they should have said something about her long before this"
Albert: "You don't go around tellin' stories like those to everybody: they might think you were crazy. But he often told me about that girl when we used to work in the. The reason Anna brought it up last night was because she had just came down from there and she was tellin' us about how they found the body of her sister in law.
"The devil used to slap that girl in the face and burn parts of her body. She had hearts burned on her wrists, and the Blessed Sacrament burned on her breast. Once there was a cat appeared on the sill of a small window. They couldn't get that cat off from there so they sent for the priest. He read some prayers and sprinkled some holy water round and that cat went down through a register in the floor something like that one there.
"The devil did all sorts of things to annoy her. If she sat down to do some crochet work, when she got it nearly finished, the work would all unravel. She had a canary that disappeared from its cage. By and by it reappeared. It was very tame and when she took it in her hand to pet it, the devil crushed it.
"There was a picture of her mother on the wall and she used to stand before that and pray. Sometimes tears would roll down from the eyes in the picture. They collected some of those tears and took them to a chemist to have them analyzed. He said it was the purest water. Tell him about those worms, dad."
Mike: "She used to fill up with worms, and they'd come out of her body, her mouth, eyes, anywhere - thousands and thousands of them. Some of those worms had black heads. Scars used to appear on her body, and once one of her fingers dropped off. After her folks died she went to live with an uncle. They loaded some of the household goods on a truck and she got into the seat with the driver. On the way to her uncle's house all kinds of things happened. The wheels flew off and the goods kept fallin' out of the truck and they had a hard time to keep the truck on the road. There was a galvanized roof on her uncle's house, and as soon as she got inside the house they thought that roof was comin' off. All kinds of rappin' and poundin' came from up there. Sometimes she'd complain that some one was chockin' her or squeezin' her, and when she complained of being choked, white marks used to appear on her throat. They found the marks of the devil's claws on her waist."
Albert: "I slept all night after hearin' those stories, but talk about dreams! I'd carry in a lot of wood and when I got through I'd find it all outside again. The clapboards started to fall off my house and they kept fallin' off as fast as I could nail them back on. It was like that all night. I was all in, in the morning."
R.G. "I'm interested in that occult stuff. I read an account of a spiritualistic seance a while ago. Bells rang, the table jumped around, balls of light floated around the room, and spirits drew their hands across people's faces. I often thought I'd like to attend a seance. The trouble is, of course, it's all done in the dark: you can't see what's going on."
Albert: "They could see what was goin' on up there in Canada, all right. I went to a spiritualist meeting once, but they didn't turn off the lights and they didn't pull off any of that stuff you mentioned. There was some funny work there, though, just the same. I went to see what they would do, and I told my wife if he could name me I'd think he had something.
"She was afraid we were goin' to be late. She had a whole dish pan full of dishes, and she says, 'Dear me, I've got to wash those dishes, and if I do we'll be late for that meeting.' I just took that pan full of dishes and shoved it under the sink. 'Bother the dishes.' I says, 'we'll do them after we get back. I don't intend to be late for that shindig.' There were about sixty people there and by and by he called out my name - Albert Pelletier. He told me I was a happy-go-lucky guy and a lot of stuff like that, and then he says, 'Now I'm goin' to tell you something that'll surprise you.'
Well sir, that fellow described my grandmother just as well as I could do it myself. Then he says, 'Your wife is a very neat and careful housekeeper, but you did something tonight that didn't look very good.' 'Good night,' I says to myself, 'he's goin' to tell about those dishes.' And that was just what he did. He called Elise up then and told her she had had a lot of sickness. He told me to quit worryin' about gettin' my house finished, and to not spend any money on it because I could get the work done for nothing. I thought there wasn't much danger of my spendin' any money fixin' up my house because I didn't have any money to spend. A few days later a fellow came over and told me he had a little building stuff I could have and that he d come over and help me put it on. I got that work done and it didn't cost me anything.
"He told Neil Fox he was goin' to get into some trouble with two other boys, but that he'd get out of it all right. Well, of course we know Neil did get into that trouble and the other two fellows went to jail, but Neil got off because they couldn't pin anything on him. That fellow's name was Strout, and he came from Portland."
R.G. "Where were those meetings held?"
Albert: "Oh come now: I won't tell you that. He ran away with Gray's wife."
R.G: "I mean were they held in a hall or in a private dwelling.
Albert: "Always in private homes. I can't tell you that fellows first name, but he had just one hand: that is, he had an artificial hand."
R.G.: "Say, do you fix motors? I have one over to the house that wont run. It belongs on a washing machine."
Albert: "Fetch it over and I'll look at it. They bring me all kinds of stuff to fix. Old Charlie Hutchinson had a chime clock that he wanted fixed. 'Albert,' he says, 'that's a fine clock and I hate to see it standin' idle, but if I take it uptown they'll want more than it's worth to tinker with it.' I like to fool with clocks and I told Charlie that I'd take the clock home and fix it and he could pay me whatever it was worth to him." (Albert told us here something about clocks in general and about how Charlie's chime clock differed from ordinary ones. He told us what the trouble was and how he fixed it, but it was all too technical for me to remember.) "When Charlie came up to got it a week later the four o'clock woolen mill whistle was just blowin'. That clock was setting on the mantlepiece and the hands pointed to just four. 'Charlie' I says, 'you see that clock? It hasn't lost a minute since it was fixed.' Charlie says that clock is running fine now.
"Adolphe Leblanc - you know the fellow that goes around selling things - come up to the house once with a bag in his hand and he says, 'Albert, I've got a clock here that the kid took apart. If you can put life into that I'll say you're good.' I looked into that bag, and say; it was just a collection of springs, wheels, and screws. 'I'll bet you a dollar you can't put that together so it'll run,' he says. 'Is everything here?' I says, 'I'll guarantee all the parts are there,' he says. I put that clock together and everything was there but one of the wheels and a few screws, but I happened to have an old clock that had just the parts I needed. The next time he called the clock was running."
Mike: "That reminds me of the experience of a fellow that took a clock apart to clean it. He put it together again so it would run, but he had a handful of gears that he hadn't found any place for in the clock."
Albert: "I fixed one clock for a fellow that he had been tryin' to fix himself. There were some long screws in there that he had lost the nuts for, and he had bent over the ends of those screws so they'd stay in. Now there was no need of doin' that: it would have been much better to have just pushed the screws in and left them like that. The trouble with one clock that a fellow brought me was that it kept stoppin' at twenty minutes of eight. He thought the hands were catching, and he had twisted them all kinds of ways." (Albert gave me some more technical details here, but I couldn't remember them. The trouble was, he said, that a hen's feather had gotten into that clock and got wedged somewhere so that the clock would stop at 7:40. The hands could be turned by, but the spring wasn't strong enough to run the wheels by the feather. He said he noticed the feather as soon as he opened the clock, and that all he did was to take a pair of long nosed pliers and pull the feather out. "The fellow thought my fixin' that clock was something of a miracle," Albert said, "but I never told him what the matter was with it."
Mike: "That was pretty near as bad as some trouble that I saw Johnny Haines fix once. (Haines ran a jewelry repair shop here about forty five years ago.) I was up there in his shop and a woodsman came in with a watch that had stopped on him. It was one of those old-fashioned key wind watches with two covers on the back. You had to open both covers to wind the watch. I have one in my pocket, right now, that I've had for fifty years. Johnny opened that watch and screwed a glass into his eye and started pokin' at the works. By and by he let the woodsman take his glass so he could see what the matter was. 'Come over here, Mike,' Johnny says, 'I want you to see this too.' I took that glass of his and looked in at the hairspring and there was a dead louse wedged in there. I suppose the woodsman opened the watch to wind it and that louse got in there and got caught. Say, with Johnny's glass that louse looked to be inches long."
Albert: "That's something like the one about the fellow that took his watch in to a jeweler to find out why it stopped, and the jeweler found a dead bed bug in the works, 'Look here,' he says to the fellow, 'no wonder this watch won't run: the engineer is dead!'
Life Histories from the Federal Writers' Project
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when as many as one out of four Americans could not find jobs, the federal government stepped in to become the employer of last resort. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), an ambitious New Deal program, put 8,500,000 jobless to work, mostly on projects that required manual labor. With Uncle Sam meeting the payroll, countless bridges, highways and parks were constructed or repaired.
The WPA included a provision for unemployed artists and writers: the Federal Arts Projects. If they were poor enough to qualify, musicians, actors, directors, painters and writers could work directly for the government. The New Deal arts projects made a lasting impact on American cultural life and none contributed more than the Federal Writers' Project. At its peak, the Writers' Project employed about 6,500 men and women around the country, paying them a subsistence wage of about $20 a week.
The Writers' Project provided jobs for a diverse assortment of unemployed white-collar workers including beginning and experienced writers--those who had always been poor and the newly down and out. Among those Federal Writers who went on to gain national literary reputations were novelists Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow and John Cheever, and poet May Swenson. Distinguished African-American writers served literary apprenticeships on the Federal Writers' Project, including Ralph Ellison, Margaret Walker, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright.
During the Project's early years, the Federal Writers produced a series of state guidebooks that offer a flavorful sampling of life in the United States. Now considered classics of Americana, these guides remain the Federal Writers' Project's best-known undertaking; many have been reissued in the past decade. But the Federal Writers' Project also left a hidden legacy. In the late 1930s, Federal Writers recorded the life stories of more than 10,000 men and women from a variety of regions, occupations and ethnic groups.
People who told stories of life and work during the 1930s include an Irish maid from Massachusetts, a woman who worked in a North Carolina textile mill, a Scandinavian iron worker, a Vermont farm wife, an African-American worker in Chicago meat packing house, and a clerk in Macy's department store.
Many Americans in the thirties remembered the nineteenth century as vividly as some people now recall the Depression years. The life history narratives tell of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the Chicago fire of 1871, making the pioneer journey to the Western Territories, and fleeing to America to avoid conscription into the Russian Czar's army.
These accounts were meant to be published in a series of anthologies that would form a mosaic portrait of everyday life in America. There were projected volumes on granite carvers, western pioneers and tobacco workers, among others. But by the end of the Depression, the New Deal arts projects were under attack by congressional red-baiters. Following America's entry into World War II, the Writers' Project came to a halt. A vast store of unpublished material was housed in the Library of Congress and was overlooked until recently.
This collection of life histories does not include photographs of the individuals who told their stories. In order to illustrate the narratives in this interpretive program, we have reproduced portraits of other individuals taken during the same time period, identified as "surrogate images."
Most life histories were gathered under the direction of Benjamin A. Botkin, the folklore editor of the Writers' Project. Like many intellectuals of his generation, Botkin was horrified at the rise of fascism in Europe and worried about possible consequences of that trend at home. By assembling occupationally and ethnically diverse life histories, he hoped to foster the tolerance necessary for a democratic, pluralistic community.
Although Federal Writers were not supposed to do their own creative work on Project time, many found that the Writers' Project experience offered considerably more than a meal ticket. Benjamin Botkin regarded the life history narratives as "the stuff of literature" and he expected Federal Writers to draw on them as raw material. No fan of "ivory tower writing," he shared the desire of literary realists to move "the streets, the stockyards, and the hiring halls into literature."
Many Federal Writers' field research did influence their subsequent fiction. Passages in Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side echo his interview with a Chicago prostitute. Mari Thomasi, who collected life stories of Vermont granite carvers, based her novel Like Lesser Gods on that experience. Sam Ross, who interviewed jazz musicians, wrote Windy City, a novel that describes the Chicago music scene as he knew it as a Federal Writer in the 1930s.
Federal Writers learned from the act of collecting narratives as well as from the stories themselves. The life history interviews were conducted before the days of tape recorders, so the stories had to be reconstructed from notes and memory. Botkin encouraged Federal Writers to listen for characteristic speech patterns and vernacular language.
In his Writers' Project interviews, Ralph Ellison began to experiment with ways of capturing the sound of black speech that he refined in his novel Invisible Man. "I tried to use my ear for dialogue to give an impression of just how people sounded. I developed a technique of transcribing that captured the idiom rather than trying to convey the dialect through misspellings." A Pullman porter Ellison interviewed in a Harlem bar told him, "I'm in New York, but New York ain't in me," a refrain he later borrowed for Invisible Man.
Botkin stressed the process of conducting interviews, directing his Federal Writers to "make your informant feel important. Well-conducted interviews serve as social occasions to which informants come to look forward." Each Federal Writer interpreted this advice according to his or her own inclinations. Said Ellison: "I would tell some stories to get people going and then I'd sit back and try to get it down as accurately as I could."
Federal Writer Stetson Kennedy recalls interviewing people in their Florida homes over a glass of beer. After establishing rapport, he would tell them "their lives were so interesting they should be written down. Most people agreed and the more notes you took, the better they liked it."
Since the Federal Writers themselves were on relief, they were viewed sympathetically and frequently accepted as equals by those they interviewed. Betty Burke recalls feeling that bond with the packing house workers she talked to in Chicago. "We were poor ourselves and these people were, if anything, even poorer, so I was very close to them. I understood every word they said with all my heart."
The accuracy of most of these memories can't be confirmed, but perhaps it is more useful to ask instead, what do these stories express? Personal recollection has a significance of its own and offers a window onto the ways people shape their identity and see the world around them.
Copyright The Library of Congress is not aware of any copyright in the documents in this collection. As far as is known, the documents were written by U.S. Government employees. Generally speaking, works created by U.S. Government employees are not eligible for copyright protection in the United States, although they may be under copyright in some foreign countries. The persons interviewed or whose words were transcribed were generally not employees of the U.S. Government. Privacy and publicity rights may apply. Suggested credit line: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, WPA Federal Writers' Project Collection.
1 Grady had spelled this St Herbert in the original text.
4 Original Grady text said "Pittburg, PA". I am assured by Roland, Rodolphe's son, that he never lived in Pittsburg.
5 Raoul (Rollie) went to Valley Park, Missouri and worked in a varnish plant
6 Rodolphe went to Fitchburg, Massachusetts
7 Usually called "Willie" not Bill
8 Arthur Coffin. He married Bernice (Bunny) Pelletier, daughter of Clara Pelletier and Cyril Paradis
9 Note that Magloire refers to the "World War". In 1938, there would be no reason to call it WW1, since WWII had not happened yet. The epidemic he is referring to was the "Spanish Flu" of 1918, which claimed about 20 million people worldwide, including 2 of Magloire and Catherine's children, twins born May 12, 1918. Marie-André(Mary-Andrew) Pelletier died October 20, 1918, and Adrian J. Pelletier died one week later on October 27, 1918.
10 It is unlikely that fourteen children were on that wagon. In 1865, Obeline was 23 years old, and had been married for only 6 years. Thomas was 29 years, so either Thomas had children from a previous marriage, or this is another error in the Grady text.
11 Rodolphe was the oldest boy. However, it was Raoul (Rollie) who worked in a varnish plant in Missouri, not Rodolphe. Rodolphe went to Fitchburg, MA and worked in a waste water treatment plant for about 30 years.
13 Both Clara and Raoul lived in Valley Park, MO.
14 Louis Henri Pelletier, Magloire's brother
15 Grady's interview originally had "Greenville" instead of "Greenfield"
16 "Baker" was the anglicised version of "Belanger". Magloire's mother, Obeline Belanger, was closely related to the Belangers from the 39 Tannery near Greenfeild, who moved to Bradley after the Tannery burned down. Johnny Baker owned a lot of land, and it is him that Baker Brook is named for.
17 Paul Cyr was the brother of Elizabeth (Cyr) Pelletier, Wife of Albert Pelletier. We always called him "Uncle Pauly"
18 Robert Cust was Gilbertha's husband. The boy mentioned here is Harlan Cust.
19 Albert is teasing the interviewer, Robert Grady, about selling the story to a radio station.