*One Man

The asterisk: I sometimes append the asterisk when referring to myself.

I describe myself as an activist for individual rights, an advocate of peace through mutual tolerance if not acceptance, and a champion of social justice through personal responsibility.  As a pacifist, I nonetheless support an individual’s right, with whatever force it might take, to defend himself immediately and decisively from physical assault or affront to property or liberty.  To put it in the converse, if I choose to punch someone in the face or break into his home, I am inviting him to respond with any force that, in his judgment, will terminate my assault or my aggression instantly.  One who exercises the right of self-defense, in my view, may nevertheless be a true pacifist, but merely one who chooses not to be a victim.

I am an activist against the creation of “rights” through coercion of others, against peace through capitulation, and against justice manifested as hatred of those who withdraw from mass hysteria.  I am also an activist on behalf of Almighty God, but that is beyond the scope of this piece and can better be appreciated through my book, Fire, Wind & Yesterday.

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management, (University of Maine, 1977) — the education required of state wildlife biologists and game wardens.  My undergraduate major was the science of environmental ecology (a subject distinctly different from environmentalist politics without the science).  I am a Registered Maine Guide who has hiked and hunted and fished and canoed and boated and lived in the northern Maine woods since the mid-1970s, a transplant from the western mountains of Maine.

I lay serious claim to the titles of Activist, Advisor, Advisor to the Administration, Economic Advisor, Political Advisor, Constitutional Analyst, Legal Analyst, Foreign Policy Analyst, Media Analyst, Military Analyst, Cryptanalyst, Linguist, Expert, Academic Expert, Unnamed Source, Strategist, and more… not that anyone listens, but I am as qualified as anyone named in the news media to assume any of these monikers.  How can that be, you ask?  I’m active all the time, even sometimes as an agitator, I analyze and advise and strategize, I’m an expert and a source, and, yes, I’m a cryptanalyst.  It’s true that very few listen, but nevertheless, I advise.  The beneficiaries of my activism, analysis, and advice are those who read my commentary, wherever I might share it.

I’m every bit as much an expert on things political as Noam Chomsky, whose formal education is in in linguistics, and Deepak Chopra, the medical doctor, and many other darlings of the broadcast media — who are treated as “experts” in politics because they say what the media want to hear.  (Just as I do, Chomsky and Chopra each have a formal education in something far removed from the study of the U.S. Constitution.  It’s plain to me that I have read it and they have not, so I claim a greater expertise in that hallowed document than they can.)

I scoff at news media reports that quote “experts” without naming them.  I’m equally unimpressed by reports that credit “unnamed sources,” “legal analysts,” “political advisors,” and the like.  I’m analyzing politics and laws and the media all the time.  I write letters to elected officials giving my advice.  I’m an expert on quite a few things, especially in dealing with the messes created by “enabling legislation.”  My written work is my political activism.

The government of the USA was designed not to be a religion that could only be interpreted by high priests (lawyers).  It was designed to be understood by anyone.  I do my honest best to understand law as handed down, and I refuse to employ a cadre of lawyers to help me make it through an average day.  All you need to know to be a legal analyst is that your can pay one lawyer $500 to tell you that an act of the legislature or that a court opinion means one thing, and then you can pay another lawyer $500 to tell you that a law or a ruling means the opposite.  I usually keep my thousand dollars and decide for myself.

Those seated in state legislatures around the country and in the Congress of the USA who have any respect for the insane complexity of current law and who are willing to muck it up further do not have my respect.  Government was not meant to identify all the problems I didn’t even know I had and point out all the offenses that I didn’t imagine have ever been committed against me and then force solutions upon me.  I don’t need that kind of help.  I believe in the complete ineptitude of a government to solve any problem except its practitioners’ re-election or re-appointment.

No one in government takes my advice, nor usually the advice of others with a lot more influence than I have in publishing and commentary — recent voices such as Ann Coulter, George Will, Bill Kristol, William F. Buckley, Jr., Robert Bork, Charles Krauthammer, and Milton Friedman, or earlier voices such as Ayn Rand, John Hospers, Ludwig von Mises, and Albert Jay Nock.  But I cannot remain silent in the presence of so great a travesty as our government’s failure to meet its simple obligations.  Like Cindy Lou Who, I add my voice.

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Johnny Monroe’s Junkyard

In the summer of 1970 I met Johnny Monroe of South Thomaston, Maine.  I last saw him in the early summer of 1975.  Here’s what it was about, what he was about, and how it all came about.

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In the summer of 1966 I bought a 1939 Chrysler at the Volkswagen dealership in Lima, Ohio, where I had lived since 1952.  I was about to turn 16 and hadn’t even thought about owning a car.  I had a job and a little money, though, and for $395 I took home an immaculate example of the first New Yorker, with a flathead straight-eight, running boards, suicide doors on the rear, and even a radio with push-button tuning.  On my birthday in October that year I took my driving test and passed with no trouble.  I drove the Chrysler to school at Lima Senior High my sophomore year.

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In the summer of 1967 I drove this car to Maine when the family moved to Farmington, and I drove it to school for another (junior year).  Then, that next summer, my mother tried to start it because it was in the way of her car and I wasn’t home.  When the carburetor linkage stuck open, instead of turning off the key she reached for the gas pedal and tried to pull it back up.  The engine threw a rod, making a hole through the side of the block.

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That started a search for a new motor.  Later that summer, Backus Garage in East Wilton was having its junkyard crushed and hauled, and my cousin Dan Kinney found a flathead 12-cylinder engine (V-12) in a 1940s-era Lincoln (sitting atop another car).  Neither of us had ever seen so many cylinders before.  I paid $13, which was all the money I had on me (but the crusher accepted it), and we pulled that motor just before the crusher snatched the car.  Oddly, the 12-cylinder Lincoln motor mounts matched up with the Chrysler’s.  It would have crowded the radiator core and, being not as long as the straight-eight, it didn’t quite reach the transmission.  It would have been an easy fix, no doubt, but I was just 17 and it seemed daunting.  I never installed it, but within a year I bought a Lincoln V-12 coupe in Mount Vernon and a V-12 sedan in Fayette.  I took them home and stored them in a field on the family’s 70-acre “farm.”

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In the summer of 1970 I was still looking for a 1939 Chrysler straight-eight motor.  An issue of the Maine Sunday Telegram that summer brought me to the most ethereal, enchanting place I’ve ever been.  The newspaper reported on a man from away who was searching for his ancestors’ graves in South Thomaston.  He had found the Thorndike cemetery, but the article played on his complaint that the graveyard was surrounded by an immense junkyard of pre-war cars.  The cars belonged to Johnny Monroe.  The next day, Dan and I and our friend Jordan Richards went to meet Johnny.  He was tall and gaunt, curmudgeonly and yet mischievous.  We told him what we were looking for and he said he had one or two.  But first he took us on a tour of his 80-acre paradise.

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He led us through his collection along well-worn paths in the knee-high grass.  Occasionally he’d step high over a bumper hidden in the grass and we’d follow suit.  The cars were for sale — $35 a car, you get it out yourself.  (When it came time to pay him for my own purchase, I noticed Johnny’s wallet was extremely fat with folding money.)  On the tour of the junkyard he had some fun with us, asking whether we could identify this one or that.  He challenged me to identify an upside-down carcass and said I’d probably know if I crawled underneath it to look up into the engine. I crawled and looked but to no avail. “A sleeve-valve Willys,” Johnny chuckled in triumph. (Picture below.)

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Johnny identified a great number of species for us, but the only other one I can recall now, nearly 40 years later, is the Essex, up on its side.  (Picture below.)  As this and the other pictures here attest, the condition of most of the oldest ones was pathetic.  And yet, here we were, three young men of 18-20, who all saw endless potential.  We talked of opening a business just for restoring and re-selling these antique cars.  Dan by now had his own 1949 (was it, Dan?) Hudson.  Jordan, whose preference might have been for something more modern and muscular, was ready for anything.  Yes, incidentally, we could identify many of the newer cars — the ones from the 1940s, for instance.  It was the old wooden-wheeled carcasses that left us shrugging our shoulders.

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Johnny spent a long afternoon giving us the tour.  His house, a run-down looking two-story building and attachments, stood on the side of the road toward the sea.  It was still 200-300 meters from the shore, and from the back of the house to the water lay the more recent cars, from the late 1930s to the late 1940s, even a couple in the 1950s.  Across the road from the house lay the other half of the collection, those mostly no newer than the early 1930s.  (The graveyard lay in the midst of these.)  Johnny explained that he had started accumulating the cars during the second world war for the metal, but the scrappers never came this far to get it, so here it was still.  He had a couple of sheds on the same side of the road as the older cars, and these sheds were full of parts.  He estimated that he had a thousand cars, but there were no million-dollar surprises — no Duesenberg or even a Cadillac.  I recall seeing one mid-’30s Packard and one 1938 Chrysler that had a straight-eight engine but with a different block than mine.

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Eventually, Johnny led us to his 1939 Chryslers, all three of them.  Two of them show up in the pictures here.  Johnny is the fellow between the cars below wearing the floppy hat.  Jordan is beside him.  Below that are a couple more shots of the two Chryslers I took home from there.

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I paid for all three, $105, but only ever managed to get two of them back to Farmington with the help of my friends.  The one that was a straight-eight had a hole in the block in the same place as mine — a testament to an inherent weakness in that engine.  (It was an “Imperial,” while the six-cylinder specimen was a “Royal.”)

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In the picture below you can see the back of Johnny’s house.  These Chryslers were 2/3 of the way from his house to the shore.

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Altogether that summer my friends and I made four day-long trips to Johnny’s paradise.  On one trip we began to pull the engine out of a 1942 Chrysler.  It was a straight eight as well, and had all the appearance of being identical to mine.  In the pictures below, Jordan is inside the engine compartment while an old friend from Ohio, Ron Jacobs, sits on the roof.  We were only going to buy the motor out of this one, but when we pulled off the head, we could see that the block was cracked.  In the second picture I imagine Ron’s head slumped at just the moment Jordan said something about the block being cracked.  We abandoned the task at that point.

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(Incidentally, as these photos attest, I seldom traveled without a camera in those days.  I strongly favored Tri-X black and white film.  For the nearly 50 years since then I have always, always had a camera with me wherever I go, for I know that if I do not, I will surely encounter something that needs to be photographed.)

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In 1975 Beth Noyes and I were married, and I took her home from our honeymoon by way of South Thomaston.  The approach to the junkyard was the same: Gradually you began to get glimpses of the carcasses through the thick growth at the edge of the road. Then you were full upon it with cars sunk into the earth and spread from forest on one side of the road to ocean on the other.  Beth was not excited by the scene, and was even less excited when Johnny, a lanky six-footer in high rubber boots, came tromping up the road with an ax over his shoulder.  I introduced myself, and he said he remembered me.  He had had cataract surgery in the meantime and wore spherical glasses.

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Evidently the fellow whose complaint had generated the newspaper article hadn’t succeeded in obliterating Johnny’s junkyard in the five years since his complaint was published.  Irony was having fun with me, though, for Beth is related to the Waterman family whose property is all around the shore in that stretch of road.  What’s more, the name Kalloch appeared in the graveyard within the junkyard, and I became well-acquainted with Peter Kalloch, one of that same Kalloch clan, during my 23 years with Great Northern Paper in Millinocket.  I don’t know whether there’s any connection between the Kalloch and Waterman clans, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  Names on the headstones in the Thorndike cemetery include Shuman, Currier, Cook, McKellar, Shea, Rackliff, Fales, Elwell, Snowdeal, and of course Thorndike.  In 2008 I was contacted by the current owners of the land next to the cemetery, who are related to Johnny, and I was pleased to share copies of these and other pictures.  I also learned that there are still about eleven cars on the property, which I will one day search for.  The rest of the pictures on this page are random shots around Johnny’s paradise.  Where you see a man in a floppy hat, that’s Johnny.

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If you lay the next three out beside each other, they form a sort of panorama.

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(Johnny stands atop a car in this picture.)

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The next three also make the same sort of panorama when laid out correctly.

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The rest of the story of my cars makes me very wistful.  To a field on Voter Hill, outside Farmington, I eventually dragged the two Lincolns and the two Chrysler parts cars.  My original New Yorker with the blown engine was given shelter in Jordan’s brother’s barn in New Sharon.  In August 1970 I joined the Army, and Dan, about the same time, went to the Air Force.  While I was stationed in California, my father sold his farm and had to get the cars off the property.  He called me and told me he had a buyer and, as I recall, he could get about $400 for the four of them.  I assented, but never saw the money.  (You had to know my father and money.)

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I don’t know what became of the lone Lincoln V-12 engine — the one Dan and I pulled from the car at Backus Garage.  There’s more, though.  In 1973, our little group traveled to Rhode Island to buy a Chrysler straight-eight engine from an eccentric old man who claimed to have (and we saw) a Chrysler Imperial, about 1942, that he said had belonged to FDR at Campobello.  Maybe.  In 1979 or 1980, I succeeded in having the spare engine I bought from the guy in Rhode Island, and my somewhat neglected original Chrysler, hauled to Millinocket.  We were a one-car family and didn’t have a garage, so the Chrysler sat outside for a winter or two before Al Guimond came along and asked to buy it.  I had two children and no prospects for sheltering the car, so I actually traded it and its parts for a 24-volt 1954 Willys military Jeep and a trailer — a substitute for a pickup truck.  It was a poor trade.  The Jeep was okay, but I didn’t keep it for long.  It still hurts to think about giving up that Chrysler.

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Below, Jordan is checking a classic at Johnny’s.  I don’t recall what make of car it was, but I think there are enough clues there for an expert.

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I don’t know when Johnny might have died, but he took heaven-on-earth with him.  I wonder whether he chose the roadster below to take him into the next dimension.

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On a pilgrimage to the junkyard that took place about 1995 he was gone.  The cars were gone.  Most of the traces were gone.

I tip my hat to irony, though.  My daughter and son-in-law, who both work in Rockland, have just bought a house on Waterman Beach Road (February 2017).  The back of their one-acre lot butts up to the back of Johnny Monroe’s emptied junkyard.

-David A. Woodbury-

Albert Jay Nock

ajnIn 1970, in a used-book store in San Francisco, I saw a book called Memoirs of a Superfluous Man.  I found the title compelling and pulled it from the shelf.  I was much better-educated than an American of 20 is today, thanks partly to my own aptitudes and my love of learning, and I was frequenting west coast book stores with my much-more-erudite friend, Michael James McCarty.  (I knew what superfluous meant, so it intrigued me how a man could apply it to himself.)

Inside the Memoirs I found pages sprinkled with phrases in Latin and Greek, much discourse on education, and the sparkling wit of an author I had not yet encountered.  I had taken two years of Spanish in 5th and 6th grade, then two years of Latin, then two years of French — all in public school — and I was in California for a one-year course in intensive advanced Russian.  So the Greek on Nock’s pages didn’t put me off, even though I had not yet studied it.  I bought the book.

About this time I was also reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer.  There was much that tied these two books together.  Ergo, I became a reader of all Nock’s available written work as well as Hoffer’s.

As time has passed, I find that I may now be Albert Jay Nock’s most ardent torch-bearer anywhere in the world.  I have corresponded with one of his last living friends, and I am the only person, to my knowledge, who maintains a web site dedicated to perpetuating his work.  The wisdom and wit of America’s fiercest social critic and denunciator of the State — you will find it here at WordPress.

Fly Rod Crosby

Being a Registered Maine Guide in fishing, hunting, and recreation, this detail of my family tree has been important to me.  I have played with my genealogy since shortly after my father died in 1998, but mostly I have just tried to bore straight back through the generations.  On my father’s side it follows at least one line back to a William de Vernai or Verney, born about 1045 in Normandy — who must have been somebody important, because common folks didn’t keep such records about themselves.

mooseheadlakeflyrodcrosby120My father and mother each collected a little material about the family tree but didn’t do any significant research.  When Dad died I inherited the pile of material and then when the Internet went high-speed in the mid-1990s, I began poking around there.

Among my father’s things was a marvelous old book called Porter Genealogy, published in Bangor in 1878.  In it, I have located several pages with salient connections.  (I also have a hand-written list of Sweet genealogy, in the script of Dana Sweet, whose relationship to my great-great-grandfather, Andrew Sweet, remains unclear.)

Here is a salient relationship, from me (at the bottom of the list) back to Col. Ezekiel Porter of Strong, Maine, (who was not a Colonel, but a Captain of the Militia in 1787, so the Col. may have been one of those purchased commissions):

Col. Ezekiel Porter 1762-c.1814, mrd. Betsey (Wyman) Porter
parents of eleven children, including
(3) Thirza (Porter) Cottle 1789-1865, mrd. Dr. John Cottle
(4) Ezekiel Porter 1791-1867, mrd. Eunice Hitchcock
parents of nine children, including
(1) Thirza (Porter) Crosby 1819-?, mrd. Lemuel Crosby
parents of
Cornelia Thurza “Fly Rod” Crosby 1854-1946
(2) Jeremy W. Porter 1820- (still living at time of genealogy), mrd. ? (name not given in genealogy)
parents of
1st Lieutenant James E. Porter, Company I, 7th Cavalry, killed with Gen. Custer at Little Big Horn
(11) Eliza Wyman (Porter) Sweet 1807-1881, mrd. Zebediah Sweet 1809-1873
parents of
Andrew Jackson Sweet 1837-1892, mrd. Mary Jane Knowlton 1845-1913
parents of
Goldie May (Sweet) Hines 1882-1969, mrd. Ralph Gilman Hines 1881-1966
parents of
Clarice Augusta (Hines) Woodbury 1903-1969, mrd. Everett Hugh Woodbury 1889-1945
parents of
Victor Walter Woodbury 1927-1998, mrd. Dorothy Mae Miller 1925-
parents of
David A. Woodbury 1950- (that’s me)

fly-rod-crosby-362x450It’s tricky in the genealogy, because the younger Ezekiel Porter had an older sister, Thirza, and then named his daughter Thirza.  It’s the younger Thirza who is important here.  Cornelia’s middle name is spelled with a “u” in her official biography, and it’s possible, even likely, that the author of the genealogy was working from town records that had it both ways.

So I am the son of Victor, who is the son of Clarice, who is the daughter of Goldie, who is the daughter of Andrew, who is the son of Eliza, who is a sister to Ezekiel, who is grandfather of Fly Rod Crosby.

Fly Rod Crosby’s mother, Thirza Crosby, and I are first cousins four times removed, (“removed” meaning removed by generations, not convolutions of the family tree).

Fly Rod’s first cousin, Lt. James Porter, son of Jeremy Porter, was killed in Custer’s Last Stand.  As with Fly Rod’s mother, Jeremy Porter and I are first cousins four times removed.  That makes Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby my second cousin three times removed.  (My first cousin’s child is my second cousin.)  That also describes my relationship with Lt. James Porter.  My father had occasionally referred to James and the Custer connection — as far back as when I was a teenager he tried to tell me about it — but I had never quite understood those connections or teased it out of the books until now.  He never mentioned, and may not have known, that he and Cornelia were cousins, and in fact he was 19 and living in the next town when she died.

Cornelia lobbied the Maine legislature heavily, advocating that Maine Guides should meet some professional standards and therefore that they should be licensed as well, demonstrating that the standards had been met.  On March 19, 1897, the Maine legislature passed a bill requiring paid hunting and fishing guides to register with the state.  Maine registered 1316 guides in that first year.  The honor of receiving the first Maine guiding license went to Cornilia Thurza Crosby.

She first discovered her love for the wilderness when, on the advice of her doctor, she left her job in a bank to seek “a large dose of the outdoors.”  This prescription brought her to the nearby town of Rangeley, where she found work housekeeping in some of the large hotels in the area.  She became friends with the local guides, and from them she learned the lore of the woods and the pleasures of camping, hunting, and fishing.

frc28In 1886 a friend presented Cornilia with a five-ounce bamboo rod.  She became so adept at fly-fishing that she once landed 200 trout in one day.  She began to write up accounts of her fishing adventures and submitted them, under the name “Fly Rod” to O.M. Moore, editor of the Phillips Phonograph, (Phillips being another town near Strong and Rangeley).  “That’s mighty good stuff!” responded Moore.  “Send some more right away.”  “Fly Rod’s Notebook” became a widely syndicated column appearing in newspapers in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and the new name stuck.

Although she shot the last legal caribou buck in the state of Maine, “Fly Rod” Crosby’s most remarkable and enduring contribution to her native state happened far from the north woods.  In addition to being its first licensed guide, she was Maine’s first public-relations genius.  She arranged an elaborate hunting display at the First Annual Sportsmen’s Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden, starring herself, rifle in hand and wearing a daring, knee-length doeskin skirt.

frc27Her sensational appearance at the Sportsmen’s Show, together with the popularity of her column, helped to attract thousands of eager would-be outdoorsmen and quite a few women to the woods and streams of Maine.  In time, she became friends with the most famous of the country’s illustrious outdoorsmen and counted Annie Oakley among her friends as well.

Since she never had children, and apparently never married anyway, there are no descendants.  A neat little biography of her by Julia Hunter and Earle Shettleworth, Jr., is available at Amazon.com.

The Fall of Great Northern Paper

[This memoir, written in the spring of 2005, was excerpted and condensed for publication in the August and September 2005 issues of BangorMETRO magazine.  References to so many “years ago” in this article should be interpreted from that time frame.]

Perhaps unique among American employers because it was so remote from notice and completely surrounded by the natural resources that provided both raw material and power, Great Northern Paper Company in 1977 was the product of a century of American industrial Zeitgeist.  Its 4,200 workers offered living proof that capitalism works and that both the employer and its people need merely to be left alone and they will indeed get it right.

The peak of progress and production.  In 1977 GNP was still Maine’s second largest private employer after Bath Iron Works.  Busy sales offices took orders in Boston, New York, and as far west as Chicago, and three-martini lunches were common; I once attended one.  The annual sales meeting was held in such places as Pinehurst, North Carolina and Woodstock, Vermont, and no expense was spared to make them lavish.  With world-class golf tournaments and celebrity guest speakers, the affairs probably rivaled the annual sales meetings of Chrysler or GE.

Great Northern’s last river drive came in 1971 and the last horse-drawn harvesting about the same year.  By the end of that same decade, computer terminals were sprouting throughout the cavernous mill, and yet the place was alive with clanging metal and hissing steam redolent of hot lignin, workers bustling to keep up with production or occasionally relaxing deservedly.  The constant noise had given rise to communication that was a combination of sign language, flashlight signals, and hieroglyphs on log sheets.

There had been speed bumps in the industry’s headlong expansion in the 1970s, notably the energy crisis of 1973 and the first rumblings of the Indian land claims in 1975.  But the times were very, very good and optimism was high.

At the mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket, the annual Foreman’s Picnic was a feast fitting a medieval castle.  The foremen filled their trays with steamed clams and lobsters – no one was restricted to just one or two — or they feasted on slabs of steak and chicken breasts.  Gallons of potato salad, barrels of chips, huge dill pickles, and kegs and kegs of beer made the picnics “complete.”  These affairs were catered by Donat Busque, a fixture in Millinocket’s hospitality scene whose thick French lilt, jovial persona, and intense work ethic made him the ever-popular choice for catered events.

Blue after-dinner cigar smoke skewed the smiles of the locals as they bragged to the visiting salesmen about the fishing at Soddy Hunk or the new Polaris that the kids wrecked or the tournament that Stearns almost won again that year.  The foremen and managers played half-serious softball, sales versus manufacturing.  Until Peter Moir, a naturally-gifted local athlete, joined the company to help the mill team, sales had been on top in these contests.  If you didn’t play softball, you could test your skill at horseshoes against Frannie McMahon, a reigning state champ and Finishing Foreman at Millinocket.

Paper coming from the Maine mills was the highest grade in the east, if not in the entire country, and this wasn’t just the opinion of local pride, but also the opinion of the customers.  Telephone directories up and down the east coast were printed predominately on GNP paper, and directory paper from Millinocket was preferred in Indonesia, Australia, and Latin America.  Big city newspapers such as the New York Times, Newsday, and later USA Today, preferred GNP’s product for their front pages, as did many papers in Maine, large and small.  School workbooks snapped up Millinocket’s Baxter Text coated product.  GNP research helped Moore Business Forms develop the first carbonless multi-form paper, and Moore bought out the production of one or two paper machines a year.

Great Northern Paper Company had bought Great Southern Paper in 1963.  In 1970 GNP merged with Nekoosa-Edwards Paper to form Great Northern Nekoosa Corporation.  GNP, meaning just the mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket, remained the single largest division within GNN, and in 1979 GNN was number 259 on Fortune’s list of the 500 largest companies in the USA.

In the late 1970s, groundwood printing paper, (paper made from stone-ground softwood pulp) was selling for $350 or so a ton, coated paper for upwards of $500.  The starting wage at the mills for an entry-level temporary summer laborer was $5.15, which, by September, 1977, rose to $5.61.  Millinocket was believed to have, if it did not have in truth, the highest per capita income of any town in the state.  With 2.1 million acres, (3,281 square miles or almost 100 townships — an area the size of Puerto Rico), GNN was land-rich and water-rich, which was especially awe-inspiring once you had taken a few days to drive the Golden Road system. 

Joining the team.  In May, 1977, I was hired onto “the window” at the Millinocket mill.  “The window” was a colloquialism that denoted the glassed-in aperture between the Personnel Office and the time clock hallway.  I had a new Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources and a pretty and very smart local girl for a wife.  Beth, now my partner of 30 years, was also a UM-Orono graduate, and we had married while we were both still in college.  I was a veteran, had a naïve faith in the future, and thought the $12,000 or so I could make in a year, year after year, as a laborer was grand money.  I had no chance of using my degree to become a game warden or state biologist — only the girls in my graduating class were getting those jobs.  But it suited me to settle in the most splendid wilderness east of the Mississippi and slip comfortably into a manufacturing career.  That was especially odd since, on a visit to the Rumford mill nine years earlier, during my junior year at Farmington High School, I recall remarking: “Thank God I’ll never have to work in a place like this.”

I was oblivious to my outsider status in Millinocket, and my oblivion seemed more to disarm my fellow workers than incite them.  I was also Number 328 on “the window,” which meant that in order to get a full week’s work I had to let 319 men and eight women choose their temporary or seasonal assignments ahead of me.  I was no particular threat to the locals anyway, because the tradition still held true that any kid could graduate Stearns High School one day and go sign on at the mill the next.  A future of union-protected, lifelong, lucrative employment was an unquestioned certainty in 1977.  Nevertheless, even though I was near the bottom of the pecking order, throughout that summer I had a 40-hour week every week but no overtime.

I started on the pond in the wood yard that May, working nights, keeping the sluiceway clear so that four-foot logs or “bolts” could float into the wood room where the bark was removed in giant slotted tumblers — horizontal drums that could each hold a railcar load of bolts.  During the first few weeks as a laborer I managed to work my way into the wood room and onto the apron, a moving belt where logs that had been through the de-barking drums once were eyeballed for imperfections by workers armed with picaroons who picked them off by hand to be sent back if the first pass through the drums hadn’t adequately stripped them of bark.

I soon made my way into the grinder room, where the stripped logs from the wood room emptied from an overhead sluiceway into an indoor pond, the “block tank.”  Using a 12-foot long pick pole, I “poled wood” as one of two laborers each shift assigned to break up the pile in the block tank and keep the logs floating into another maze of sluiceways.  Eventually I graduated to “feeding grinders.”  Every four-foot bolt that was converted into 850,000 tons of paper a year, at the rate of roughly a cord of wood to a ton of paper, was pulled from a sluice and into a grinder “pocket” by hand.

Power generation.  Back in the early 1900s Great Northern Paper had invented the stone grinders of the sort that I was feeding pulpwood to that summer.  Thirty of these massive grindstones, six feet in diameter and close to ten feet long, with their molded-Carborundum segments, operated simultaneously on six grinder lines.  The grinder lines were driven by water flowing underneath the floor in ten-foot-diameter penstocks, underground pipes that funneled the water from Ferguson Pond at the top of the ridge in its 114-foot drop to the grinder room at the edge of Millinocket Stream.  The mill in Millinocket was built on this site precisely to take advantage of the water power generated by that steep drop.

But there wasn’t a significant watercourse, underground or above, leading to the grinder room until the West Branch of the Penobscot River had been dammed at the outlet of Ferguson Pond, just behind the mill, and the pond raised enough to spill over where the penstocks had been placed to concentrate the flow.  But all that was accomplished between 1898 and 1901, and had been so well designed and built that it still generates power today, although the grinders have long since been scrapped.

In order to turn 30 grindstones, the harnessed water drove six water wheels which could be used either to generate electrical power, when a grinder line was out of service, for maintenance for example, or could serve as electric motors to assist the grinding process when the pressure to produce pulp exceeded the ability of hydropower alone to drive the grinders.

The ability to generate hydro-electric power was one more of Great Northern’s awesome attributes in 1977.  Within the company’s 3,281 square miles stood 19 dams: 13 storage dams and six hydro-electric dams.  At one time GNP’s was the nation’s largest industrial hydro-electric system, producing enough power to electrify a city of 450,000 or, comparably, almost half the homes in Maine.  At times this power, along with that generated in several boilers at the two mills, was more than enough to make paper, and so power was sold into the public power grid.  At other times the company purchased power from the public grid.  Various GNP boilers burned oil, spent “liquor,” a by-product of the sulfite pulping process, and, by 1980, also burned bark with a moisture content up to 60%.  The bark boiler alone drew down 1,400 tons a day from the company’s ancient bark piles and reduced oil consumption by over 400,000 barrels a year.

Altogether in the two mills in 1977, this power system ran 17 paper machines and an off-machine coater.  It also ran the old paper machine that by this time was producing heavy brown wrap and ran all the ancillary equipment involved in the process: saws, chippers, belts, sulfite cookers, pulp screeners, refiners, finishing machines, machine shops, cranes, lights, and heat for the hundreds of acres of indoor manufacturing space.  By this point too, Great Northern also owned Pinkham Lumber Company in Nashville Plantation, a technologically advanced operation that, in addition to making dimension lumber, provided bulk wood chips for the sulfite pulping process at Millinocket.

Making paper.  Later that summer, although still a seasonal employee, I applied for and was tentatively accepted into the papermaker apprentice program at the Millinocket mill.  I hadn’t officially begun my training, but I was advanced into vacation replacement openings in the paper room.  For at least a couple of months then, while working all shifts, I learned the rudiments of running the winders, setting slitters, chucking cores, pushing rolls, stenciling roll numbers and roll sizes, putting up splices, changing felts, and restarting the paper machines.  I worked on every winder in the Millinocket mill except Numbers 2, 5, 11, and the Coater.  I was eager to learn it, and Wiggie Robinson, a paper room foreman before he became a radio personality, was eager to teach it.  [Posthumously, the Professional Maine Guides Association began conferring an annual Legendary Maine Guide award named for Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson, whose avocational service as a Maine Guide was — well, legendary.]

All this seemed so… so secure, back in 1977: so secure that, when a certain office took notice of my college degree — not its subject but merely the existence of the degree — and offered me a position as Assistant Sales-Production Coordinator (communicating the production schedules to the paper machine crews), I accepted the job and started a 23-year paper industry career.

Settling down.  In 1978 my wife and I and our year-old daughter were ready to own a house.  I went to see Fred Morrison, Great Northern’s Manager of Townsite, and asked for, oh, thirty or forty acres of their less-desirable forest land somewhere outside of town.  Actually, I told him, the Rice Farm property suited me just fine — later to become the first site of the New England Outdoor Center and the River Drivers Restaurant.  Perhaps because my request was so absurd, Fred called me within a few days and offered me the last available empty house lot in Millinocket.  (After we signed for that lot, prospective new-home builders had to wait until land was opened up on Morgan Lane in Millinocket or Wilderness Drive in Medway several years later.)

New concept, is it?  Yes, Great Northern owned every grain of soil and every last tree trunk surrounding Millinocket.  So when the town needed to expand to accommodate more residents — generally meaning more company employees — the company laid out a couple of streets at a time, marked out some quarter-acre lots in the manner that fitted the concept of house lots according to the company’s Connecticut-based owners, and sold those lots, with significant deed restrictions to assure an affluent-looking neighborhood.

Our last-lot luck, which cost us $2,500, permitted us to add a three-bedroom single-story modular home for an additional $35,000.  We lived in our modest little house at 50 Heritage Street for 11 years, then bought Beth’s parents’ house when her father, a mechanical engineer who had risen in position to VP of Operations, retired after 29 years with the company.  We sold the house on Heritage Street for something over $60,000 and handled the deal ourselves.

It was after I joined the management team in the fall of 1977 that I began to enjoy the experience of attending foremen’s picnics and annual sales meetings.  Within a few months of assuming the position of assistant to the production coordinator, he moved on to another opening, I slid into his job, and hired myself an assistant.

Although it occupied an office in the Millinocket mill, this function was under the Sales Department, whose VP and administrative team occupied offices in the GNN headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.  Since my boss needed to see me occasionally and didn’t make frequent trips to the mills, I was ordered to make a monthly visit to the Stamford office.  Scheduling the paper machines was in the hands of Ed Gardner, Dennis Danie, and Carmen Quinones, a team of math geniuses in Stamford supervised by the insufferable Warren Spearin, a native of Mattawamkeag who could be forgiven for his tortured attempt to adapt to life in the city.  He was, in fact, the best teacher of business that I ever had.

What went wrong.  Where did it go wrong?  What interrupted this idyll?  Why is Katahdin Paper barely an echo of what GNP had been a quarter century ago?

The nightmare began almost as soon as I had settled in Millinocket.  While it is likely that none of these disheartening problems alone would have brought the company down, and it is impossible as well to ascribe degrees of blame, over the course of the next decade Great Northern — and the industry — was ravaged by labor unrest, the Indian land claim, the spruce budworm, the Big ‘A’ project, workers’ comp, and a simple tax law change.  Once Great Northern began to bleed and squirm and to appear vulnerable under the assault, the environmentalists smelled opportunity and moved in like hyenas to prowl the perimeter and lunge at the company’s wounds.  The coups de grâce, for they were several, were the corporate takeovers, each one diminishing Great Northern with indifference, like a log against a grindstone.

Great Northern, though, wasn’t the only victim of the decade’s bad laws and predatory do-gooders.  For as the mills shriveled, various appendages did also or fell off altogether: the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, the Millinocket Foundry, suppliers of paper machine parts and fabrics (does anyone remember the Knox Woolen Mill?), construction contractors and the laborers they hired, Black Clawson and Beloit, the makers and suppliers of wood harvesting machines and the harvesters who ran them, the local small businesses throughout northern Penobscot County where company trucks stopped almost daily to pick up anything from gas cans to sandwiches, the school systems.  Real estate in the Millinockets is now so cheap that out-of-staters are astonished.

The strike.  Through the 1970s-1990s there were 14 union locals between the two mills, one representing office workers, one for guards, eight locals representing tradesmen, two UPIU locals for pulp and sulfite workers, and two UPIU locals for papermakers.  A single labor agreement covered the latter twelve locals until 1978.  That summer, when the company offered the tradesmen a 22.2% pay increase over the next two years, the eight trades locals insisted that that was not enough.  The papermakers had been offered something different, and the trades wanted “parity.”  They also insisted that their eight locals trumped the UPIU’s four within the single labor agreement, so the UPIU was outvoted.  The UPIU, with a vast advantage in members, took a one-man-one-vote stance.  The NLRB and federal courts refused to intervene, and federal and state mediators along with Governor Brennan failed to resolve the stalemate.

After nearly two months the trades capitulated and formed a separate bargaining unit.  The bitterness between the factions, between neighbors and within families, continues to this day.  The strike had forced all the company’s customers, worst of all its big customers like Bell-Atlantic and JC Penney, to suddenly find new sources of paper and quickly.  The quiet summer off was a nice vacation for the wealthiest community in the state.  The wealth, however, never returned.

Indian Land Claims.  In July, 1979, Fortune published an article on the very complicated claim by the Penobscot and the Passamaquoddy tribes that had by then gone before a federal court.  The Indians were convinced that the eastern states, which had been dealing with the tribes on a state-by-state basis for nearly two hundred years, had been doing so in violation of the federal Non-intercourse Act of 1790.  In the west, which in 1790 meant Tennessee, the federal government handled all official dealings with the Indians.  One federal court in 1975 had already agreed with them.  The Fortune article explained that if that earlier ruling were upheld in appeal, then timberlands in Maine far in excess of Great Northern’s holdings could not just potentially but realistically revert to the tribes.  While the land claims had rumbled in the background for a few years already, this published article emphasized the threat where it could hurt the parent corporation the most, in financial circles.  Great Northern Nekoosa was already disenchanted with its Maine mills due to the strike, so what had been benign neglect of the GNP division up to then was eventually perceived locally as almost open animosity.

Budworm and blow-down.  A little brown moth, or more accurately, billions of their caterpillars, have been a cyclical nuisance in the northern coniferous forests indefinitely.  When its population cycle seriously threatened the steady supply of pulpwood to the mills in 1980, it had to be dealt with.  The roar of crop-dusters taking off from the Millinocket airport starting at 4:30 most mornings, for weeks that spring and summer, was dramatic and briefly very expensive, but not of huge economic impact to GNP.  The previous summer a forest fire had consumed 3,500 acres at Abol, partly in and partly outside of Baxter State Park.  Sparked by lightning in a blow-down, it was nonetheless indicative of what could happen to a stand of commercial forest similarly killed by the budworm, and it had to be prevented.

The company had been battered by its own employees, then the Indians in the federal courts, and now nature was in on the act — this at a time when southern Maine was assuming the social and political character of spillover from Massachusetts and was awakening to the nastiness of such agents as Sevin-4-Oil (Carbaryl) and Malathion.  It is nasty, too, which is why it was used, but it is also only briefly effective.  Bacillus thuringiensis was also sprayed on the budworm with gratifying effect, but obtaining BT, a natural agent, in sufficient quantities was a challenge.  Nevertheless, in that part of the state, “spray” was becoming a four-letter word, and the death of a few million trees was an acceptable sacrifice to people who lived a good 200 miles from the center of any potential forest fire.

The alternative, to reduce budworm devastation without spraying, would have been to cut some of every acre every year, a practical impossibility and also forbidden by other environmental regulations.

Dark days.  By 1980, while I was still in the role of Sales-Production Coordinator, my staff of Phillipa Morrison, Andy Brunette, and I began to notice the atmosphere of looming austerity.  I have kept a Bangor Daily News clipping from June, 1980, quoting GNP President Peter Yacavone’s prediction of “dark days ahead” for the company.  What did he know and why did he give such a melancholy picture to the newspaper?

The unions were quick to accuse the company of fabricated gloom-and-doom predictions whenever contract talks were at hand.  Contracts were renegotiated every two years during that period, and 1980 was a contract year.  So the easy answer for Mr. Yacavone’s news release was that the company merely wanted to paint a bleak financial future in order to depress the unions’ wage demands in the wake of the strike.

By 1980 it was widely perceived in Millinocket and East Millinocket that for years GNN had been soaking the highly-productive Maine mills for profits and diverting those profits to the purchase of new equipment elsewhere, including the new “Challenger” paper machine at its Ashdown, Arkansas mill and the construction of an entirely new pulp mill at Leaf River, Mississippi.  That sort of corporate spending, so the rumor went, could not have happened without the cash generated by the Maine mills.

Big Ambejackmockamus.  Phyllis Austin reported in the Maine Times in September 1977 that “Wayne Hockmeyer of Rockwood, who owns Northern Whitewater Expeditions, Inc., has formed the Society to Protect the Kennebec and the Penobscot Rivers.”  Austin’s article alluded to a project already being studied by Great Northern that would flood Ripogenus Gorge “from Ripogenus Dam to Nesowadnahunk Falls,” but presumably worse, “would put [Hockmeyer’s] raft expedition out of business.”

With the successful negotiation of new labor agreements in 1980 and a settlement to the Indian land claims that same year, GNN apparently softened and allowed engineers at Great Northern Paper to begin a serious study of building a hydro-electric dam at Big ‘A’ — just below Little Ambejackmockamus and just over four miles below Ripogenus Dam.  Bangor Daily News environmental writer David Platt reported on this in a January 1982 article, where he noted that such a dam would produce 223-233 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and “would silence significant rapids on the West Branch.”

The company estimated the cost of building the dam at $96 million in 1982 money, but there is no perspective to that figure until one considers that the impetus was the energy crisis of just a few years before.  The company felt environmentally responsible to propose its best prospect for alternative, clean energy.  Since the application to build the dam, filed with the state in 1984, cost $7 million to put together, one can also imagine what a start toward building the dam could have been achieved either by putting that money to construction instead or by using the boxes of data included in the application as landfill at the bottom of the river to be covered with concrete.

The Big ‘A’ is where Brownie Carson, who in 1984 took over as tsar of the official-sounding, Augusta-based, private club called the Natural Resources Council of Maine, fought his biggest battle to date on behalf of his limited public, and perhaps his biggest battle ever, against big industry in the state.  Carson has reigned over Maine environmentalists ever since.

The battle was on for much of the 1980s.  Brownie Carson, a gifted fund-raiser and talented organizer, was effective in bringing together true believers from many far-flung organizations and other parts of the country to oppose what he portrayed as Great Northern’s wanton, inconsiderate, profit-motivated abuse of the people’s river.

The rapids from Ripogenus Dam to Big Ambejackmockamus are beautiful, and the dam would have flooded the gorge, but the 857-acre lake planned as a result had recreational advantages as well.  So the company fought back, but it was a war of words, and the company’s engineering voices were no match for the shrill and the indignant.  Inevitably, politicians could see the company’s mouths moving but could only hear the factions of the opposition, who were continually reinforced by fresh, passionate recruits.

An environmental impact study was ordered.  Environmental mitigation plans were then ordered.  A table in the hallway of the Millinocket town office began to fill up with thick three-ring binders containing the public copy of these studies — volumes upon volumes in addition to the initial application.  I once looked at that table in awe, wondering what was being gained by this production of documents — and wondering as well how on earth I, minor minion of the company and humble citizen of Millinocket, could become rationally informed about the arguments.  I contemplated facetiously asking for a six-month leave of absence in order to read the 31,000 pages of official drivel.

But one must choose sides without being so informed.  In 1985, public hearings began in Millinocket.  As Paul McCann noted in his chronicle of Great Northern, Timber!: “[u]nion leaders Bob Bernier, Leroy Michaud, and Jim Mingo traveled the state to enlist support of union members.”  Town residents and mill workers filled the hearings in support of the project.  The company brought in biologists who assured that the salmon population as well as the salmon fishing would not be harmed.  According to Paul McCann: “Recreation specialists… said that a profitable and popular [whitewater rafting] trip could be developed downstream.”  The opposition presented testimony from its own experts which, although sometimes refuted, was applauded in the Bangor Daily News and other news media, which had their own agenda and also had control of the flow of information to the public.

The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) attached one more condition to the application that, it is generally conceded, killed the project: no job losses.  It’s not that Great Northern wanted to reduce manpower.  It’s just that no company can sensibly say one year that operations will not change over time.  Sure, no job losses were anticipated from the construction of Big ‘A.’  In fact, the project would have permitted GNN to consider other capital projects that could increase production and jobs.  But if business decisions were made later — and how much later? — that resulted in job losses, how would the company prove that the dam hadn’t contributed in some way?

When GNN took its lawyers off the case and left the state after arriving at an impasse over Big ‘A’ — it wasn’t really shot down, it was simply impeded to death — GNN’s ultimate abandonment of Maine was plain to see.  Dick Noyes, a GNP engineering manager heavily invested in the project, had attended a couple of the hearings and realized that some faces in the crowd were acquaintances from other paper companies, making him realize that the whole industry was watching.  Noyes called the defeat of the Big ‘A’ plan the keystone event in the demise of the company.

A simple tax ruling.  As Sales-Production Coordinator in the early 1980s I saw another sinister twist in affairs.  After the strike of 1978, customers who returned to us nevertheless adopted two behaviors — one that seemed positive and one that was irksome but forgivable.  First, they ordered large quantities ahead, on the off-chance that another strike would come in 1982 or 1984, one would suppose; but the advance orders were welcome.  Second, even though they came back, they only partly came back, and they stayed with other sources as well, whom they had cultivated while GNP’s production was down.

Add to this an innocent-seeming ruling by the IRS in the early 1980s — after all, such rulings are merely meant to bring our laws more closely in line with the Constitution, (aren’t they?), which benefits everyone.  This ruling forced manufacturers, which included printing companies, to pay a tax on any unused inventory (assets) at the end of the tax year.  Big customers like Bell, or the big contractors who did some of their printing, like RR Donnelley, cancelled orders that in years past would have left them with a three-month supply of paper at year’s end.

As printing companies reached the ends of their inventories, GNP’s sales reps, who were notorious for scribbling indecipherable orders on cocktail napkins or the backs of business cards and submitting them on Friday afternoons, continued to do so but began to add: “for Monday shipment.”  Customers were storing paper “on the machines,” as it came to be known.  I was running to the paper machines on Friday afternoons with changes in roll sizes and sudden changes in the grade or color of an order and adding that it had to be shipped in 80 trucks beginning Sunday night.  Then I was calling Larry Willinski in the Transportation Department to get Cole’s Express and whichever  trucking company he could wrangle to start getting the empty trucks in there over the weekend.

We only barely understood what was happening at the time, how one ill wind was compounding another.  But the ill winds were mere stinkers compared to what came next.

Workers’ comp.  In 1983, in the name of working people everywhere, Maine made its own single greatest contribution to the decline of GNP: The firm of McTeague, Higbee, Libner, et al in Topsham succeeded in getting substantial changes in Maine’s workers’ compensation law through the legislature and signed by Governor Brennan.  Then the firm was fortunate to see one of its own partners, Jim Tierney, appointed Attorney General for Maine.  So the law firm that drafted the legislation, which took effect in 1984, was furthermore influential in enforcing the new act and was also poised to represent a new wave of injured workers seeking redress under the new improved benefits for injured workers.

Such a sweeping change in the law had to be justified somehow.  I wasn’t present in the halls of the State House to hear the arguments in its favor, but I suspect that workplace deaths weren’t at the root of it.  During an office remodeling project at the Millinocket mill about 1985, I found some accident reports from the late 1950s.  Remarkably, the standard form at the time had a column at the far right for fatalities, and the year-end summary for 1958 showed a total of 12.  That column had been deleted in the intervening years, and the last work-related fatality of a Great Northern employee had occurred a couple of years before I came to work there.  That is, if you don’t count the car-pool member who was having chest pain on his way to work one morning and then died as soon as he hit the locker room, or a couple more like that, which were ruled work-related and compensable under McTeague’s 1984 Workers’ Compensation Act.

The lawyers of the McTeague firm set up a makeshift office in Millinocket and began luring customers.  It paid off big for them.  By the mid-1980s Great Northern, self-insured for workers’ comp, would be shelling out or reserving $11 million a year for medicals and indemnity, mostly indemnity (lost time), and Patrick McTeague and a couple of his henchmen were the beneficiaries of roughly a third of that money.  GNP, isolated as it was in the forest, was like a lost reef in the ocean populated with docile fish and recently discovered by a trio of marauding sharks.

They came and they fed.  GNP management was incredulous at the hostility of the 1982 revisions and then the even-more-insidious 1984 act.  Employees who had little ambition in the first place began to see quarter-million-dollar settlements, or promises thereof, if they would merely fake it long enough that the company would pay to get rid of them.

In mid-1984, then, my career took a turn.  A position in Human Resources had opened up when an HR rep, Ken Legins, was appointed Manager of Workers’ Compensation.  I took his place in HR, documenting absences and administering (at first) minor provisions of the labor agreements — four labor agreements by this time, to cover the 14 locals.  The relatively small OPEIU (office workers) group consumed as much HR effort as either the huge papermakers or trades bargaining unit.  But I was soon up to my snorkel in all of them.

I was also right-hand man to Ken, who needed data, lots of it, and fast.  Ken, a mere barracuda on the reef, was aggressive and determined to battle the sharks.  He took them on with an innocent audacity that must have startled even Pat McTeague.  It was a fun time to be in HR.

It was interesting, although not fun, to encounter the injured workers who had been coached into total disability in the 1980s.  And here it will suffice to mention but a few cases that represent dozens more like them.

There was the papermaker in his late 20s who sustained a back injury.  He went directly from the mill to the hospital, where his blood work showed the presence of cocaine.  This report became part of the employer’s workers’ comp medical record, and the matter went before a commissioner.  The fact that he was demonstrably under the influence of an illegal drug while on the job had no influence on the commissioner’s decision regarding the compensability of his back injury case.  Nor could the company use the information in a disciplinary action for on-the-job drug use, because the employee was not tested for cause.  He took his total disability settlement and started a business near the coast where he then proceeded to… work.  His wife, meanwhile, also a laborer in the Millinocket mill, threw down her picaroon in the wood room one day and declared: “This job sucks.  I’m going on comp!”

There was the pleasant young guy who left work on his motorcycle one day and rode it the wrong way in the parking lot, colliding with an oncoming car.  His disability wasn’t total, but his permanent light duty made him the envy of other wannabes.  In another motor vehicle accident, a Great Northern truck driver sustained minor injuries, but the workup for that accident disclosed that he had a leukemia.  He recovered quickly enough from the accident, but he never returned to work due to the medical condition, and GNP paid workers’ comp benefits for the state’s only recorded case of work-related leukemia.  This was an honest worker who would have accepted a separation of the two matters but was coached to accept all the law would afford him.  Then there was the older worker on the machine that wrapped rolls of paper for shipment.  He bent over one day to reach for a piece of paper on the floor and felt a pain in his low back.  He never succeeded in touching what he was reaching for, so he had not put his back out by lifting anything even so lightweight as a piece of paper.  The medical results could identify only subjective back pain, but he eventually received one of those quarter-million-dollar settlements.  I was in the mill’s medical office one day and witnessed the conversation and demonstration when a worker, who had been on comp for months, came in, raised one arm to point directly at the ceiling light above his head, and said: “Doc, I used to be able to get my arm up this high.”  Then he dropped his arm by 90 degrees to point at the wall directly in front of him and said: “Now I can only get it up this high.”  Three work-related deaths occurred during the early 1980s, too.  In one instance, a man scheduled for the day shift was presumed absent but was later found dead in his car in the parking lot.  In another instance, a worker had arrived and had begun to change for work in the locker room when he suddenly pitched forward and hit the floor, a victim of a heart attack known as the widow-maker.  Then there was the car-pool rider who complained of feeling sick all the way down from Patten, only to die in the mill as he was reporting for work.  These deaths from non-work-related causes not only ruined the mill’s safety record, because the law considered them work-related, but of course were intensely costly to the company as well.

The company’s response to such an attack under the law was to use its only legal weapon and to controvert almost all workers’ comp claims.  For me, where I dealt with the individuals involved and could distinguish between the real and the steal, it was disturbing that the real claimants were denied as well.  Almost everything went to hearings, unless the employee simply gave up and became permanently soured at the company over it.

The announcement.  In spite of the several blows that had pummeled Great Northern in the six or seven short years following the strike, the state, both its government and its populace, still had the perception that Great Northern was the quintessential success story, still rolling in the dough.  The agony was all within the company, acutely felt in management, and not yet well understood or deeply felt on the street or on the production line.  Generous wage packages still came out of negotiations.  No one was being laid off.

Then, on a bleak January day in 1986, Bob Bartlett, president of Great Northern Paper, invited all employees to one of several sessions at the Stearns High School auditorium, where he would make an announcement.  There would be, he told us, a re-structuring of the company that would result in the elimination of 1,200 to 1,400 jobs.  As a human resources assistant with a year’s experience administering labor agreements, I immediately saw my future with the company: handling layoffs and grievances.  I was among some good players, though, with HR manager Dennis Corson, safety supervisor Lin Davis, and mill nurse Rick Grunthaler.  And thus we were occupied for the next several years.

The manpower reductions were to take place as much as possible by attrition and enhanced retirement offerings.  The company also asked the unions for an early return to the negotiating table, because a massive reduction such as this had collective bargaining implications and, what’s more, if the unions wanted to forestall complete disaster, then they’d best come listen to some new concepts called team manning, multicraft, and cooperative work.

Those concepts were indeed accepted, eventually and grudgingly, by the unions, and not with the illusion that they would make the company Great again.  Money was poured into incentives to retire, for those who had the magic combination of age and years of service.  I remember finishing foreman Bob Morrison who missed it by a month and who wept.  Hundreds of others, though, took advantage of it in 1986 and 1987, (and then again in 1994).  The magic formula required a resulting number of 85 or greater and had to meet the minimums of 55 years of age and 30 years of service.  Someone 62 years old with 25 years of service did not qualify, nor did someone age 57 with 28 years of service.  Bob was in the latter category.

Reductions in force, RIF’s, did shrink the work force to about 2,800 within a year, then further still, until only 1,700 or fewer were left by the time I quit in 1999.  Paper machines were shut down and whole “rooms” — spaces within the mills big enough to store a battleship — fell silent.  People were laid off, especially as whole departments were shut down.  Bumping rights were limited but did permit a junior worker from one department, once RIFfed from that department, to bump into another department.  Quite a few capable workers who didn’t want to wait around to see when their RIF would come simply pulled up stakes and went to work in other mills elsewhere.  As this happened, ironic as it was, I found myself calling those just laid off to come back to work.  Each summer for the next several years, the temporary summer help consisted not of recent high school graduates and college students, as it had been, but those who had recently been “permanently” laid off.

Tempers flared and blame was cast and managers were shuffled around.  The effects of the 1984 workers’ comp act were still fresh at the time of the January 1986 announcement, so people on restricted duty or disability due to injuries were offered settlements to get them off the rolls, allowing able workers to stay.

The “three-legged stool” of team manning, multicraft, and cooperative work, while ratified by the unions, was not well understood, so grievance poured in, not only due to the layoffs but because the wrong department had sent a man to patch a hole in the pavement somewhere — never mind that the hole had been patched by someone from the same local that generated the grievance.  (A hole in the pavement in the wood yard had been patched by a wood room employee, not a yard department employee.  Same union local, but a grievance just the same.)

Because the company was under siege from all these compounding elements, so too were the area towns.  The schools threatened to cut back, and they did.  Town services went through comparable reductions.  As production was reduced, so was the need for the railroad’s services, and on it went.

From the mid-1980s to the end of the next decade, I had job security and ever more responsibility as others in human resources management left without being replaced.  But I also questioned the wisdom of staying with it.  The attraction of the surrounding wilderness, our family compound on Ambajejus Lake, our children in school, and the dogged determination not to be forced out of Maine all conspired to keep me in place.

And in spite of the company’s death throes, I never went longer than 15 months without an increase in pay.  If nothing else held someone there, the “golden handcuffs” did.  But those of us still handcuffed began to hear from those who had been laid off: “There’s life after Great Northern.”

Environmentalists.  In spite of his criticism of the Big ‘A’ project and his assumption of proprietary rights over the West Branch, Wayne Hockmeyer struck a deal with Great Northern that allowed him to set up a campground near the river.  He had some business sense and gained the cautious respect of GNP leadership while negotiating a minimum release of water from Ripogenus Dam throughout the rafting season so that rafting trips wouldn’t be cancelled for a dry creek bed in July, as would be the case under natural conditions, natural meaning no dam at Rip in the first place.

Hockmeyer never satisfactorily explained for me how it was environmentally friendly for 30,000 rafters each summer (his estimate) to leave their bodily waste along the riverbank in volumes that the poor river had never been expected to absorb before the protectors of it came to christen it in droves.

Big ‘A’ “expert” Brownie Carson had the audacity to solicit funds in Millinocket for his private club, the Natural Resources Council.  But he made it sound as though the NRC was an under-funded branch of state government.  I know; I received loads of solicitations from him.  I made sure that I understood correctly, because anyone who didn’t check would have assumed what he wanted them to assume about it.

Even though blow-downs, “Mother Nature’s clearcuts,” met with little environmentalist protest or insistence on preventive measures, harvesting practices elsewhere, to which GNP did not subscribe, shamed the company into doubling its team of foresters to 40 between 1975 and 1980.  Once again, emotional appeals trumped forestry in the managing of the resource, and the definition of a clearcut became ever more restrictive in forestry regulations.

GNP’s pulping processes did not produce dioxins as a by-product, but naturally occurring dioxins became evidence enough for some keepers of the drumbeat.  One GNP study demonstrated that as much dioxin contamination was present above the Millinocket mill as below it, but the report was decried as a lie and demands that GNP account for its dioxin releases continued until I left there.  (Dioxins are by-products of the decay of granite and other natural phenomena.)

Environmentalists of less distinct identity were at the root of the company’s urgency to reduce dependence on high-sulfur fuel oil for its boilers, a noble enough recommendation, never mind that domestic supplies tend toward a higher sulfur content.  Low-sulfur oil is typically imported, but the company was equally pressured to reduce dependence on foreign oil.  Go figure.

One of the earliest environmentalist hazards the company had to deal with was LURC.  Created by the Maine Legislature in 1971 to serve as the planning and zoning authority for the state’s townships, plantations, and unorganized areas, the Land Use Regulation Commission has regulatory jurisdiction over land use in these areas either because they have no form of local government or decline to administer land use controls.  But these are precisely the land areas that constituted Great Northern’s 2.1 million acres.  So the company had to hold the Commission in due respect and pray that its membership didn’t tilt too steeply toward the tree-huggers.  LURC’s regional officials do take their don’t-move-that-rock mandate seriously, and while their overall nuisance level was considerable, LURC was “manageable.”

Great Northern’s — and Maine’s– most insidious outside enemy was and remains the well-heeled and zealous organization, RESTORE: The North Woods.  Started in Massachusetts in 1992, RESTORE almost immediately laid claim to Maine as if refusing to accept the state’s separate identity since 1820.  In 1994, RESTORE distributed a glossy brochure arrogantly proclaiming that Maine, (or “The North Woods,” to remove any disturbing implication that Maine might have a say), was about to become a national park.  That brochure has an appeal that even I almost can’t resist.

But wait!  As Millinocket school teacher Dave Dickey once proposed, why not RESTORE: Boston!  Maybe future generations should enjoy an authentic urban experience of the 1990s, and wouldn’t it be ideal to declare half of Boston off limits to any further development for the greater good of those a few hundred years from now who will otherwise never know what a cramped, dingy city looked like!  Of course, RESTORE: Boston should be based in Benedicta, Maine, for the convenience of those who know the most about authentic Boston.  And RESTORE: Boston should also make sure that the eastern timber rattler is restored to its original habitat, especially where Concord, Massachusetts now sits.

I lived part of each summer on Porter Lake in New Vineyard from the early 1950s until I graduated from Farmington High School in 1969.  I have a degree in wildlife management, University of Maine, 1977.  My undergraduate major was the science of ecology, (as opposed to the politics of ecology, which has everything to do with emotion and little to do with science).  I lived in Millinocket for 23 years and for the past five have been in Lincoln.  I know these woods and I know the Great Northern that took all the grief for its supposed rape of the forest, fouling of the air, and corrupting of the waterways.

The sheer hubris of the environmentalist elite is breathtaking.  RESTORE has been the example to emulate for the last ten years.  These are people who want to save Maine from itself and wrest the land from the best stewards it ever had or will have.   (Was that an editorial?)  If I join the NRA or start a rod and gun club, it will be chiefly to irritate the irrational interlopers who ought to be picking up the trash along the Amtrak routes in their own state instead of pooping in the woods along the pristine rivers of Maine.

Takeovers.  If there’s a factor that did not have as much influence on the demise of Great Northern Paper as is presumed, it would be the corporate takeovers.  Great Northern Nekoosa had poured big bucks into the Millinocket mill in 1972 to build #11 paper machine, but ever after almost neglected the Maine mills for the duration of the 1970s and 1980s.  Yes, there was money for the Big ‘A’ study and GNN funded the 1985 rebuild of the two large paper machines at East Millinocket, but nothing on the scale of #11 ever came again.  GNP simply failed to compete with other GNN projects for capital, in large part due to the influence of non-Maine senior managers and directors such as corporate president Bill Laidig.

GNN, as distinct from GNP, had its crown jewels in Ashdown, Arkansas and Leaf River, Mississippi.  These were the elements that attracted Georgia-Pacific and resulted in its purchase of the entire GNN in 1990.  But G-P wasn’t interested in the Maine mills either.  So by the end of 1991 a buyer had been found for just the old GNP, and on the first of January 1992 it became Great Northern Paper, a division of Bowater, Incorporated.

At this and each subsequent takeover there were debates and lawyered agreements about who would assume GNP’s persistent debt, pension obligations, unsettled labor issues, unresolved legal threats, and environmental challenges: the buyer or the seller.  Georgia-Pacific may have overlooked some of that load, like retiree income benefits and cost of retiree health coverage, liability for tort, unresolved grievance settlements, and liability for clean-up of PCBs or other hazards not previously discovered or not previously known as hazards.

Bowater seemed genuinely interested in developing the productive capacity of the mills, but they also sent people to spend the first year studying the work force.  Apparently they didn’t like what they saw.  It was my impression then that the trauma of the 1980s had created an obvious intransigence in those left behind.  I believe we were, frankly, unmanageable.  Nevertheless, Bowater started the recycle plant at East Millinocket in 1992 or 1993 and invested a lot of money in training the rest of the work force to embrace ISO and quality improvement.

If Bowater ever succeeded in realizing a steady profit from the Maine mills, I don’t recall it.  There were brief periods of respite, but by 1997 and 1998, I was aware that the company was losing money on the order of a million dollars a month.  A break-even month then was cause for celebration.

Finally, Bowater, too, gave up.  Once Inexcon had lined up its financing in late 1998, which included the sale of all but 439,000 acres of timberland to reduce debt, its buyout of Great Northern Paper from Bowater had left it with five operating paper machines and an off-machine coater, and $22 million in real or pledged financing to proceed with capital improvements.

Bowing out.  Still, as 1999 unfolded, we were losing money at the rate of a million dollars a month.  I don’t have skills in sophisticated finance, but I understood two things and I did the math: It cost six million to seven million dollars a week to run the company and we were coming up a quarter million short a week, so how many months before that $22 million pledged for improvements was eaten away and we wouldn’t even make payroll?  Oh, and after 20 years, uncoated paper was still selling for under $500 a ton.  Was it competition from subsidized Canadian mills that depressed the price?  Mostly.  Did the Canadians put GNP out of business?  No.  If it hadn’t been for the strike, Indian land claims, ruinous tax law, workers’ comp, the Big ‘A’, and the corporate hostility that resulted from all of these, Great Northern probably could have survived the rest, including competitors, and could, today, still be operating ten or so paper machines, a couple of them newer than Number 5 and Number 6 at East Millinocket.

During the year that the company should have been celebrating its 100th anniversary, (1998 or 1999, depending when you start counting), there was not even a mention of a centennial among the employees or in the press.

In most ways reluctantly but in some ways jubilantly, I left when another opportunity was offered me.  It took a year longer than I guessed it would for the money to run out, due largely, I suspect, to the creative financing engaged in by Inexcon’s new, high-profile leader, Lambert Bedard.  And so, now, the once mighty Great Northern Paper Company has been rendered a mere toothpick to its original, full-bolt size and influence.

The owners of the existing Katahdin Paper are to be congratulated for their optimism and their investment in the future of the towns.  Even though I was frustrated by the hundreds of grievances I handled and the exigencies of surviving without administrative funds and even though I worked for bosses in the 1990s who had no respect for the labor agreements that I had administered since before they worked there, I never met anyone I didn’t genuinely like.  If I butted heads with the president of the Machinist local, Jim Federico, in the daytime, I could go dig plum trees in his yard that evening to transplant to my own.  Maybe that sense of community and the geographic isolation that kept strangers away accounts for the lack of violence during the 1978 strike.  We were mad at each other, but we wouldn’t kill over it.

If Katahdin were to become a ski resort like Loon Mountain, then perhaps one of the mills could serve as a shopping center like the one in Lincoln, New Hampshire.  Otherwise, it remains for Massachusetts to reclaim The North Woods and set up some sort of propaganda center at the spot in the mill where my next-door neighbor, Tom Herring, used to be the number one man on the number one machine in the number one mill of the number one groundwood paper company in the world.  And it’s remarkable how proud and yet humbled Tom stood after I pointed that out to him one day.

It remains a fact that the towns where the mills still stand are still home to a high concentration of men and women who know how to make the best groundwood printing paper that ever there was.  As the means were gradually taken away with which to do that, they kept trying.  They didn’t buy buzzwords or slogans or empty promises.  They wanted to make paper when it was their turn to work and then be left to themselves to go to camp or go to their kids’ basketball games.  They were pretty sure the politicians would make things right, but the politicians understood neither what was killing the company nor their role in enabling the process.

Loyal Democrat, Joe Brennan, whose lifelong political career began in 1965, served as Maine governor from 1979-1987, during which period U.S. District Court Judge, George Mitchell, rose to national prominence after Brennan appointed him to the U.S. Senate — appointed at first to replace Edmund Muskie, who resigned the Senate to become U.S. Secretary of State.  East Millinocket mill worker, Mike Michaud, was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1980 and remained a mill worker while serving in the Maine legislature until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and began serving there in 2003.  Others holding heavy sway over the regulations and attitudes of Maine government during this period included two-term governor Angus King and former Representative to Congress, then governor since 2003, John Baldacci, both Democrats.  (King, independently wealthy, generally ran as an Independent but did not conceal his political affections.)  Republicans Bill Cohen, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins all held prominent elected and appointed positions during these critical years for Great Northern Paper.  These powerful people, while expressing their best wishes for Great Northern’s future, all did their best to assure that the business environment in Maine and nationally would favor the demands of the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and its Maine minion, the Natural Resources Council, the IRS, and every other entity dedicated to restraining the ability of industry to grow and prosper.  Like the steel industry a generation before and the energy industry a generation later, Great Northern Paper became the “beneficiary” of too much government.  (That, indeed, is an editorial comment.)  Co-beneficiaries, naturally, are the workers, the towns, and the pristine state of Maine.  And Maine, no doubt, will soon become the beneficiary of too much protection by its admirers in Massachusetts and beyond.

Thirty years ago, folks in Millinocket and East Millinocket could boast that half of the people in America regularly held something in their hands printed on paper that had been produced in one of those two towns — a newspaper, a catalog, a school workbook, or a telephone book.  While a skeleton crew is still making paper today, the once-proud stewards of the forest must accept the realization that their towns now serve, not as the envy of Maine industry, but merely as a remote gateway to its controversial wilderness.


This memoir was written in 2005 essentially from memory, with reference to articles and clippings in my possession at the time.  Timber! — a brief chronicle of GNP in the 1970s and 1980s by Paul K. McCann, provided corroboration of some of the facts cited here.

WWJD about Terrorism

I wrote this article in 2005.  George W. Bush’s second term as President had just begun and Barack H. Obama’s two terms had not yet been dreamed of, except by him.  In 2005 I stated:“A long war has only just begun…  I am persuaded that we are in it for a very long, long time.”  The eleven years that have passed since this was first published have only borne that out.  As for what-would-Jesus-do, I stand by what I originally wrote in 2005. -DAW, October 2016

With the “war on terror” AKA the “war in Iraq” I have wrestled with the question: WWJD?  Recently I had to admit being challenged by it from a bumper sticker.

Politics aside, (because one’s fury at or approval of G.W. Bush does not inform my thinking), it would seem that what I’m trying to resolve is a question of religion.  And yet, neither dogma nor mysticism inform my thinking either.

Even atheists who oppose the war must admit that they are oddly in league with those Christians who similarly insist upon peace at any cost, that killing is wrong no matter what the provocation, and that the enemy, whoever it is, needs to be approached sternly but with both logic and limits.  Atheists-for-Peace (in Iraq), if that describes them adequately, stop short of like-minded Christians-for-Peace, who can be relied upon to add prayer to their solution.

I have some politically liberal friends whom I love and respect and struggle to understand.  We avoid arguing, probably because to do so would inform neither of us but would drive us apart, which would be stupid because neither we nor they will affect the course of this war.

I have supported it, in general, since the USA began cleaning up first Afghanistan and then Iraq.  Yes, I trust President G.W. Bush, a lot more than I trusted his opponents and his predecessor.  But I’m willing to ask myself whether this is right.  Am I supporting the destruction of the world?  Am I, out of ignorance, in collusion with satan, as my Christians-for-Peace friends might hope I come to realize?  What does satan want?  Does this war serve satan, or would our avoidance of this war serve satan better?  What does Jesus want?  What would Jesus do?  What is the difference between this and all other threats?

I have sensed, since it began, that it is different.  I have accepted that, because it is different, in a way that I could not until now describe, then our response to it has been appropriate.  Not because I was told so in a speech or by a columnist.  For me to form an opinion I need information and evidence.  And if these don’t point to a clear path of thinking, then I need inspiration.

I don’t subscribe to the opinions of people who demand that I believe because they told me so or because they have the more worthy emotions or because they are justified by their superior intellect, connections, or purity of motive.  I don’t subscribe to an opinion because it is widely held, supported by polls, or for the common good.

So in searching for the answer to this deepening ethical dilemma – How can I support a war that confutes the teaching of Jesus? – I have drawn upon the inspiration of my own faith.  For instruction, I have read the Bible.  And what follows is what I see.

When Jesus came right out and said Do this and Don’t do that, he confused his followers, including us, more than when he taught by example and parable.  I don’t struggle with the counsel to walk another mile and turn the other cheek.  That’s illogical because it is elegant and noble and just might do more to confound an individual enemy than resisting.  When he invited the holier-than-thous to cast the first stone, he really was inviting them to compare themselves with their intended victim.

When he asked whose picture was on the conqueror’s coin, he was pointing out that money is of the earth (has it ever been different?) and is controlled by whomever is in power, while people are not Caesar’s but belong to God.  Resisting Caesar would amount to wasting energy fighting Romans.  By their faith in his illogical pronouncement, his followers were able to create something that eventually would rule Rome, not submit to it.

But the enemies everyone could identify with in that era were, for all their power and arrogance, civil people.  Throughout history, there have been many organized forces which descended upon the innocent and conquered without mercy, but their objective was to control and subjugate a nation, a region, or the known world, not to annihilate, and especially not to annihilate out of apoplectic hatred for their chosen enemy.  In present time, apoplectic hatred of all Americans is the motive of those who started this.

Attempts at conquest involve nation rising against nation, either to settle a grievance or to satisfy a charismatic if arrogant, self-appointed, self-worshipping ruler.  Even though Hitler and Stalin were perhaps the most sinister and duplicitous of them all, they still made a pretense of civility and honor.  They needed to be glorified and, even though they made mockery of it, they pretended at diplomacy.  Kim Jung-Il does the same today, and will probably not rest until he has attempted to bring more of the world into his fold of worshippers.  Not that anyone actually worships him, but he doesn’t know it, such is his delusion like that of Hitler and Stalin, a few Roman emperors, and others.

Islam suffers from the same sort of self-destructive forces in the person of a few ruling do-no-wrong clerics.  But Islam is not a country or an ethnic group.  Nor is it a unified religious body such as the Roman Catholic Church.  Islam is a body of ideas, some of them religious, some even grounded in faith (as opposed to religion or dogma), but not the property of any orderly clerical hierarchy.  The high priests of Islam don’t even appear to be interested in finding their own common ground or representing their teaching to the world.  (Something like that could also be said about the intolerant, hate-motivated splinter groups of so-called Christians, up to a point.)

The high priests of Islam’s most self-destructive splinter groups aren’t interested in civility amongst themselves or representing their teaching to the world because it is not their objective to win converts.  They are preaching hatred for anything and anyone who is not themselves.  They don’t want slaves.  There is no place in their world for converted followers or repentant non-Muslims.  It is ironic that they now have a few tools that they did not have a century or even a quarter century ago, and all are the products of civilized societies: broadcast media to spread their message, money from oil or plunder (whatever the difference might be), the armaments that their money can buy, and most diabolical of all, the open borders that free societies have permitted in the name of humanity.  Ironically, too, they have the complicity of a fawning American communications media, motivated not by love for radical Islam but by hatred for a common enemy, George Bush.

It is with the tools made possible by our prosperity and generosity that we are being attacked.  This time in history, though, the enemy is anywhere and everywhere.  There is no leader who, by our taking him out, leaves the movement stalled or stopped.  Since it is not a nationalist movement, there is no single country to overpower to stall or stop the movement.

And since the movement is not interested in our subservience, our gold, our conversion, or our appeasement, there may be no stopping it.  It was easier to wipe out smallpox than it will be to put down radical militant Islam.

Regardless which way we react, with guns or with olive branches, we face one choice and that is to wait it out.  Turning the other cheek will have no influence on their loathing for all things American or Jewish or Christian.  So what do we do while their fury runs its course?

Options:

…Duck every time there is a bombing in a civilized part of the world such as Spain or Indonesia or England or the USA, then carry on as if it was another hurricane that can’t be prevented or diverted.

…Send money and suicidal volunteers to the mountains of the Middle East to set up schools for teaching the peaceable tenets of Islam, and hope to have more influence than the radical militants.

…Appeal to the good will and spirit of cooperation of desperately poor and uncooperative nations such as Russia and China and ask them to intervene to persuade the radical militant rabble-rousers to look more kindly on the USA, so we can resume exporting Barbie dolls and Coca-Cola to the Middle East.

No, these aren’t options, and I won’t go on.

War is a great waste of resources and lives, but Jesus did not suggest how to deal with this enemy.  Rather, I’m somewhat persuaded that he warned of this enemy and this time.  I am not a student of Revelation, nor do I expect to be.  It accomplishes nothing if I spend the next ten years of my life becoming yet another expert on the end times; (experts on Revelation have come and gone by the thousands).  But I could be persuaded that we are there or nearly so.

I’ve tried to discover the rational, productive, and inspired response to the attacks on the free world by this newly-empowered force which, as I admit, we have helped to create.  If a military response is appropriate, then it must be everything we can do or nothing at all.  Anything in between will be like Vietnam.  And damn the so-called United Nations; half the nations involved are state sponsors of terrorism, so it’s no wonder the UN isn’t united on this problem.

If the response is heightened security, then let it rise to a level that will truly thwart homeland terrorism.  Anything less will be a waste of resources and an acceptance of random attacks.  No security at all is, to me, not an option, especially when the earliest victims of a casual attitude will be slaughtered or poisoned innocents, including more children, and letting our lives ever more be controlled by the fear of another attack now and then.  I may be uncomfortable in the summertime wearing long clothes against the insects, but if I want to reduce the bites and stings I live with the extra heat.

Whether we submit to the attacks of those who hate us and regard it as a fact of life in the modern world, or respond with decisive force and intrusive scrutiny, as we have begun to do, I am persuaded that we are in it for a very long, long time.  Those whose anger at the USA is so profound that they will commit suicide in order to express it do not represent a passing fad.  They represent a still-growing movement.  Ignore them and they won’t go away.  They will not be satisfied until they have annihilated us.

What does Jesus want me to do?  Well, there is frankly little that I can do, personally.  I wish there were effective channels for me to do something beyond the borders of my own country, but at least I can look after those in need in my own country.  I can and do vote.  But I vote with different things in mind than a single issue that has most affected my “consciousness.”  I vote based on my understanding of government and how I believe candidates will uphold the Constitution, not based on contrived issues such as abortion-as-birth-control or campaign finance “reform” or fake immigration reform.  Candidates dangle their positions on issues before us to attract our votes when they know full well they have little chance of delivering on their promises.  We are fools to let their stands on issues influence us.  It’s their position on government that matters to me – the less of it the better and the less intrusion and money poured into other countries the better.

If I have the opportunity to come face to face with an open-minded Muslim who has yet to form an opinion of Americans, I hope I as an individual will have contributed to a favorable impression.  But what are the chances that such an opportunity will fall to me?

America has been attacked by these indistinct forces somewhat due to our own indifference toward the nations that they come from, but moreso due to their envy, the misinformation fed to them by their own leaders, and the machinations of their own minds, steeped in ignorance of us.  When mosquitoes swarm, I swat.  I don’t kill them all or chase them all away, but fewer get to poke me.  I don’t try to talk them out of it.  They want my blood.  I am definitely less efficient in whatever I’m doing if I’m flailing at them, but the alternative – simply letting them all stick me – is unthinkable.  Let that be an analogy.

I wish I could regard the “enemy combatants” as redeemable individual humans.  They won’t let me.  Jesus submitted to his crucifixion without flailing or fighting back or calling upon his followers to attack his captors and free him.  But I argue that he knew that his individual death, so inscrutably accepted by him, would affect the entire world.  If I submit to death by a mindless enemy, it will not affect the world as did his, and so I am motivated to resist, on an individual level.  If a man stands before me and punches me in the face, I will do all in my power to prevent a second punch.  If he punches my son, I beg forgiveness in advance for the fury with which I will prevent a second punch.

Perhaps we humans have reached the limit of our ability to civilize ourselves, the limit of our ability to cooperate to any greater extent.  Perhaps this is as good as it gets.  two fifths of the world still lives in conditions no better than a thousand years ago.  It’s America’s delusion that there is a bright future ahead for humanity with disease-free planned communities and sanitary food and free cellular phones for everyone on earth.  We tried to show the world that it can be done: Individuals can have liberty and self-determination; and left to choose whether to be selfish or charitable, people will mostly chose to give to those in need.  Supply will meet demand when markets are left to take care of distribution and cost.  People freed from tyranny will invent and invest.  Information will flow.

Well, we have demonstrated all of that.  But the rest of the world only stares at us in wonder, then envy, then hatred.  They don’t perceive that they, too, can chose what we have chosen.  Even those within our own country, who perceive themselves oppressed or advocates for the oppressed within out borders, also behave as if they hate this country.  They are persuaded, instead, that they cannot have what freedom would make possible, and they would deny the rest of us the same.  When our enemies from the outside can lash out at us in the name of God and our enemies from within can undermine us in ignorance of or denial of God, they all believe they are justified.

A long war has only just begun.  It may cost the USA all that we have left in lives and resources, not to mention money and the destruction that will be wrought wherever we meet the battle.  But I can see no alternative.  Not to engage them is to invite an equal waste of lives and resources and destruction in a place of their choosing, not ours.  It matters not to them who dies, as long as the maximum number of Americans (or Brits or Spaniards, etc.) are destroyed.  In a war, however peculiarly it is fought, the individual foot soldiers of the enemy cannot be indicted and “brought to justice.”  In a war, they get picked off before they pick you off.  They disguise themselves as or hide behind “civilians” and so the innocent in their own countries are victims.  So are the innocent in this country.  I have no influence on those who hold political power, but if I did, I would exhort them to get the hell out of other people’s countries and concentrate on defending our own country.  I understand, though, that defending ourselves is only a secondary motive here, and control of the world is more what they have on their minds.

I find only one clear answer in the Bible.  I find no evidence that Jesus dealt with or told anyone else how to deal with humans who turn themselves into mosquitoes or vipers or whatever non-human analogy best describes the plague that is upon us.  I am not persuaded that the enemy we now face is even fully human except in DNA.  I do not purport to be an expert on evil, so I will refrain from declaring those who would destroy me as evil, in the sense that would make them literally agents of satan.  They are evil in the sense that they are fiercely dedicated to opposing the will of God, inasmuch as we, as a society, have constructed our world on the premise that God is love and that the two great commandments should guide our thoughts and our actions.

In the Bible, the answer is in the words of Jesus.  Yes, all of his teaching points to faith in God and love of oneself and others, but there is one more dimension to it: You improve humanity by improving the one human unit over which you have control – yourself.  He does not preach collective action, the joining of movements or armies or political parties or even churches.  He preaches to each individual the responsibility to get oneself right with God.  That’s what Jesus would do.  Improve your one human unit.  Get yourself right with God and let those who have eyes see your plain example and those who have ears hear your humble words.  Jesus does not call upon us to create or join a tumult.

Armies and parties and mass movements do not improve me, as a unit, and they do not help me by showing up on my doorstep, whether with aid or demands.  Likewise, I cannot presume to improve any other human being by showing up, as part of a group, on someone else’s doorstep with a demand or with unrequested aid.  Those who have joined the armies of this country to defend it are doing me a favor, just as I did by joining up during the Vietnam war, and it is a favor rather than a curse only because the motives of the individual recruits in this country’s armed forces are benevolent and defensive – note I say the motives of the individuals.

I will carry on with my life as best I can.  I will think globally and act locally.  In thinking globally, I will not regard the hate-motivated, random-destruction-of-anything-that-can-be-a-target as an acceptable norm, therefore I will not oppose reasonable efforts to stop it.  I will vote to reduce the reach of government both within this country and the reach of this government abroad.  Locally, I will act as I have been inspired to do by my God.  Locally, too, I will defend, with adequate force, if an enemy such as this appears personally on my doorstep.

What God has in mind to resolve this conflict and repair this mess I don’t presume to discern, and I will be skeptical of anyone who confidently tells me he has discerned God’s mind on this.  I think we will be shown, in the fullness of time.  As I await, I will attempt to do what only I can do: Make myself one person who the rest of the world does not have to carry owing to my own irresponsibility and does not have to avoid because I have become a threat.

11 July 2005

Directions to the Locomotives

A pair of abandoned, standard-gauge steam locomotives of the Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad stand side-by-side in a small clearing deep in the north woods of Maine.  This is a guide to finding them.  One of the engines has a 2-8-0 wheel arrangement and one is a 4-6-0 — eight driving wheels on the first, six driving wheels on the other.  The first digit in each wheel arrangement refers to the number of pilot wheels at the front of the locomotive.  The zero in each arrangement means that there are no trailing wheels behind the drivers, used on more modern steam engines to help support the firebox-end of the boiler.

Dale Roberts has written that the 2-8-0 is formerly New York Central’s Lake Shore & Michigan Southern #5780 (780) and was built by American Locomotive Company in it’s Brooks Works.  The 4-6-0 was Indiana Harbor Belt (also owned by New York Central) #15 (has also been numbered 109) also built by ALCO but in it’s Schenectady New York assembly plant.  (Regarding identification of remaining steam locomotives in the U.S., Dale adds: “Here’s a good resource for you, David.  I use it all the time.  It’s excellent: http://steamlocomotive.com/lists/.”

To get there by way of the Golden Road:
(There are directions further down for getting there by way of Chamberlain Lake.)  The map positions listed at the bottom of this description are taken from my old handheld Magellan GPS, which I use mainly to mark significant spots, rather than to navigate.  All coordinates are in the form degrees – minutes – seconds north latitude by degrees – minutes – seconds west longitude.  You can recalculate all coordinates to decimal equivalents if you wish.

You can’t depend on a GPS for navigation by roads when you’re in the north Maine woods, because there are no addresses or landmarks like major highway intersections, and many of the roads you will be traveling are not marked on USGS maps or on the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer.  It’s a wilderness owned and managed by numerous private landowners, who collectively permit access under the organization called North Maine Woods, also managed by the Maine Forest Service and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.  It is a wilderness without manmade landmarks, criss-crossed by private dirt roads, and the roads that are labeled on Google maps are often known differently by the locals, if you can find any locals.  Obvious natural features in the woods, such as streams (some with bridges), lakes, gravel pits, and hilltops, are ignored by an automotive navigation GPS.

You can use a GPS, however, to zero in on a given set of coordinates.  You need a copy of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer or the appropriate USGS maps up here.  I’ve never plotted exact distances or driving times, so the distances below are taken from guesses and memory and eyeballing the Gazetteer.  You’re looking at two, or up to three hours of driving time from Millinocket, but that’s a wild guess too, and depends on how much time you spend walking around at various attractions along the way.  There are only two reasonable ways to take this trip from May to September.  From mid-September through November, not only is it hunting season for moose and deer, but the weather makes hiking and boating especially hazardous, especially if someone gets soaked, which can happen for more reasons than you can imagine.  In the winter there are reliable snowmobile routes — a third way of getting there for those who like winter adventures.

In the fairer seasons it’s best to take two days (departing from Millinocket), and go prepared for one night of primitive camping.  I recommend hiking in to see the locomotives on the first day and camping overnight near Umbazooksus Dam.  You can also do it in one day, leaving early from Millinocket (or Millinocket Lake) and returning to your starting point that evening, however you will not have time to explore the other end of the rail line at Umbazooksus or the sites in between.

SONY DSC

EL&WB RR 2-8-0

GETTING THERE

From Millinocket follow signs for Baxter State Park.  There is a built-up area on the way to the park, about seven miles from Millinocket (North Woods Trading Post, Big Moose Inn, campground, boat launch, turnoff for NEOC) all jammed between Millinocket Lake and Ambajejus Lake.  Where two roads run parallel at this built-up area, cross over to the left road and continue on the Golden Road.  Follow the Golden Road for twenty-some miles, and when you reach the Chewonki camps and campground (formerly Big Eddy campground) on the right, begin watching for a right turn onto the Telos Road, a few hundred yards ahead.  (There is no sign that says Telos Road.)

Take the right onto the Telos Road, which immediately crosses a short bridge over the West Branch of the Penobscot River.  (An interesting diversion lies just after the bridge, a parking area with outhouse and short hike to the river’s edge.)  Soon after the bridge, the pavement ends, and from there onward you’re on dirt roads, but for most of the distance these are well-maintained for two-way traffic and log trucks; I sometimes reach 50mph on the longer stretches, although, at that speed, sudden bone-jarring washouts and holes appear without warning.  Enjoy the ride and watch for moose, especially in a large sand pit about eight miles up on the left.  Seven miles or so after the sand pit you will come to a checkpoint for North Maine Woods, with a cluster of little buildings on the left.  Stop and go inside and register your intentions.  In 2017 there is a day-use fee of $10 per person over 15 and under 70.  If you intend to camp overnight, you can get information about available campsites and fees.

After the checkpoint, it’a about ten miles straight north to a ‘T’ in the road.  If you go right at the ‘T’ you will come immediately to Chamberlain Bridge, on the channel between the extreme south end of Chamberlain Lake and Round Pond/Telos Lake to the south of Chamberlain.  There is a boat launch at the bridge, if you intend to run the 15 miles or so up the lake.  If you plan on hiking in to the locomotives, which I recommend, then at the’T’ go LEFT.  There are opportunities to take a wrong turn, but you’ll realize it shortly if you do.

Go six to seven miles west-southwest and take the swing to the right onto what the map calls Grande Marche Road.  If you continue straight here instead, it’s about a mile to Umbazooksus Lake.  This was the southern terminus of the Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad, and there are relics here.  Walk across the short dam at Umbazooksus and you may find railcar wheel sets in the gravel along the lake’s west shore.  It takes some searching.  The rail line ran up the east shore of the lake, and you can find the undulations in the ground where the cross ties used to lie, on the very southern tip of the lake next to the road.  It’s not feasible, on a casual visit, to follow the old rail bed, for reasons that will become apparent if you try.  (Swamps, dense growth, trunks of dead trees across the way.)  But there are some easily-accessed stretches where you can follow it for a few yards or further, as much as you can tolerate the difficulty.  I once intended to hike the 13-mile length of the rail line, but that proved completely insane without bringing heavy equipment, or at least a chain saw and lots of gas.

Once you’re on Grande Marche Road, watch for the spot where the tracks would have crossed the road, about 3-4 miles up (see Crossing under ‘Coordinates’ below).  The logging road is newer than the railroad, so it was not a crossing when the railroad was running.  At what is now the crossing, Great Northern Paper, which used to own these woods and roads, apparently tore up the rails for some distance back from the road and even piled some rails next to the road, although I expect that some day I will go by there and the pile of rails will be gone.  But, if you hike into the woods at the crossing, especially to the east, you will come to the original rails on the original roadbed.  The rails are almost hidden for good in the grasp of the ground which is swallowing it all up.  To the west of the crossing you can, with effort, reach the north shore of Umbazooksus Lake.

From the crossing, continue about another 10 miles on Grande Marche Road, keeping to the right when presented with an unclear choice, until you cross a short bridge over Allagash Stream.  Within a mile or so, on the right, there will be two lesser roads.  Skip the first, less-passable one and take the second, which is in better condition (First Right under ‘Coordinates’).  Proceed on this one for a little over a mile, maybe two miles, to another road that turns south (Second Right under ‘Coordinates’).  There are false turns here, so use the GPS coordinates provided to guide you.  At the last turnoff, as you look down the final road, you’re looking downhill (not a steep hill) and, depending on the encroaching undergrowth, you can see quite a long distance down this road.  At the point I call “Park” under ‘Coordinates’ there are sometimes large boulders placed across the final road, and sometimes they’re not there.  If they’re not there, go as far as your vehicle will safely take you on this southeasterly road and then park without obstructing the way.  (Someone may have parked farther in than you’ve gone, so you need to allow them space to get by.)  It’s now a hike to the southeast of about two miles to reach the locomotives, depending where you park.

Regardless where you park, you will still walk a distance on this southeasterly remnant of a road until you find the trail.  It’s not marked well, but easy enough to guess at when you see an excess of marking tape on the scrub brush on the left. (Two spots are marked On Path N and On Path S under ‘Coordinates’).

The path from this last road to the clearing which holds the locomotive is not a marked trail.  If you’re used to following faint trails through the woods, you’ll make it, and just trust your coordinates anyway.  What’s more, if you stay on a southeasterly tack you will absolutely come to the cable tramway and the wide trail that runs alongside it, because it spans the entire distance between the two lakes.  From wherever you reach the tramway you can go left to the locomotives and Eagle Lake or right to the tramway equipment and Chamberlain Lake.  It’s all flat trail terrain with no elevations to deal with but plenty of wet ground.  The trail I normally take, provided I can find it and stay on it, actually runs down a stream bed for some dozens of yards.  Waterproof hiking boots that come over your ankles are useful here.

If you stay near the Eagle Lake side of the isthmus between the two lakes, as I do, then as you draw near to the clearing where the locomotives sit, you will begin to see relics in the woods, and eventually you’ll find yourself walking right between the rails that the trains once ran on.  The rails are sinking into the ground and there are mature trees growing up between them.  The locomotives are near the shore of Eagle Lake, along with much other equipment (Tramway under ‘Coordinates’).  Just 25 yards east of the locomotives, almost on the shore of Eagle Lake, you will find what was once a small rail-yard populated with the remnants of log-hauling railcars and other gear.  A few yards further is a channel that was dug from Eagle Lake to the site where a large structure once stood, now gone, where the logs were pulled from Eagle Lake to be loaded onto the tramway.  Among the other relics here are a large boat propeller and the crankshaft from an internal-combustion engine — look on the north side of the dug channel.  (There are also a few fossil brachiopods within the rocks strewn on the beach.)  A bunch of other relics are scattered in the trees behind the locomotive tenders.

Before the standard gauge railroad was built to haul logs to Umbazooksus Lake, a 3000-foot conveyor was used to move the logs, in a continuous line, from the shore of Eagle Lake to the shore of Chamberlain Lake, to the southwest.  There is a pleasant highway of a hiking trail alongside the remains of this conveyor, the actual tramway, which is the word often used to refer to the whole place where the locomotives and all the relics now lie.  The tramway consisted of a cable pulling a continuous string of wheel sets, resembling tiny railroad wheels, along tiny rails, and each wheel set held up one end of a log.  So it is just over a half-mile hike to reach the other end of the tramway at Chamberlain Lake, well worth the time to see the equipment (and restoration under way) there.

There are some historical placards on the locomotives and among the relics explaining that this whole operation was built in the 1920s (and abandoned in the 1930s) because Eagle Lake feeds the Allagash River, which flows northward.  The paper mills, which used the timber cut in that region, were located to the south.  Chamberlain Lake feeds the East Branch of the Penobscot River, which flows south, while the other lakes to the west of there all feed what is known as the West Branch watershed, the southward-flowing West Branch of the Penobscot River.  Therefore, logs that had been cut to the east of Eagle Lake were floated across that lake to the dug channel next to the locomotives where, before the railroad was built, they could be transferred by tramway to Chamberlain Lake and later, by train, to Umbasooksus Lake.  From Umbazooksus they could be conveyed by lakes and by river to the mills at Millinocket and East Millinocket.  Log drives like this, though, ceased in the early 1970s and that’s when the Golden Road was extended to the border with Canada to the west and into the Allagash region to the north.

Allow yourself enough time to hike out to your vehicle before dark.

Coordinates:
Umbazooksoos south shore
46d 08’ 52”N
-69d 20’ 49”W

Crossing
46d 11’ 54”N (46.198333)
-69d 22’ 36”W (-69.366667)

First Right
46d 19’ 54”N
-69d 25’ 29”W

Second Right
46d 20’ 41”N
-69d 24’ 37”W

Park
46d 20’ 29”N
-69d 24’ 21”W

On Path N
46d 19’ 48”N
-69d 23’ 29”W

On Path S
46d 19’ 40”N
-69d 23’ 27”W

Tramway (locomotives)
46d 19’ 25”N
-69d 22’ 31”W

SONY DSC

EL&WB 4-6-0

To get there by way of Chamberlain Lake:
First, look up the rules at https://www1.maine.gov/dacf/parks/park_passes_fees_rules/aww_rules.shtml, because you can use a motor up to 10 h.p. on Chamberlain Lake, but only on a craft defined as a canoe.  Mine is a 21-foot Scott canoe, square-stern, powered by a 6 h.p. Johnson.  Second, be equipped for an unexpected overnight stay.  I have gone up Chamberlain Lake when it was glassy calm in the morning and there were whitecaps on two-foot breakers 20-feet apart by early afternoon.  Third, there are hazards on the western shore of the lake, which is the lee shore in a normal gale, such as submerged rocks, so when the wind is up in the afternoon, the hazards almost force you to ride the rough seas out in the open instead of hugging the shore the way you’d like to.

You launch at Chamberlain Bridge, (go RIGHT at the ’T’ mentioned above), then park your truck and trailer a short distance back the way you came, beyond the ranger station.  You head north up a mile-long thoroughfare, which resembles being on a wide river.  There are ten or so primitive campsites spaced along the west shore of the lake, and a couple on the east shore as well.  The northernmost campsite on the west shore is called Crow’s Nest, if I remember correctly.  I’ve used this one.  It is near the pilings which are remnants of the low trestle that carried the railroad over the Allagash Stream inlet, and on the rise above Crow’s Nest, fifty yards up from the rocky beach, lies the roadbed to the old railroad.  The rails are pulled up here, but the undulations in the earth tell you where the cross-ties used to lie.  There are relics, and you can hike a fair distance in either direction (back toward the trestle, for instance).

To get to the tramway by way of Chamberlain Lake, you head into a swampy cove, a half mile across at its opening, located on the northeast end of the lake.  (Follow the eastern shore into this grassy swampy cove until you come to a barely-discernible landing, which you can guess at because there is a bright clearing on the shore to aim for.)  When you come by lake, you will be at the Chamberlain end of the tramway conveyor.  There is a pair of standing boilers here, similar to steam locomotive boilers but stationary.  A lot of other equipment is located in this clearing, and a team of volunteers has begun to reconstruct the tramway mechanism on this site.  From here you would hike the 3000-foot distance to the Eagle Lake on the highway of a trail that I mentioned earlier, to get to the clearing with the locomotives.

I cannot responsibly publish these directions without some serious warnings:  You MUST take proper equipment with you, and this can be much more than you suspect.  You MUST carry certain extra equipment in your vehicle or boat, such as spare socks, spare drinking water, and so on.  (Life preservers in a canoe, and if it’s over a certain length and powered, then also lights, horn, flares, and whatever else is currently required by boating law.)  You MUST carry certain items in a bag or backpack as you hike.  These would include a compass (make sure you can find the four cardinal points if nothing else), two ways to start a fire, a reliable full-tang fixed-blade knife, a whistle, a map (even a hand-drawn map) of where you’re going, GPS if you’re using one, and something to eat with protein in it to sustain you for a few hours.  I urge that your backpack also include a rain parka, a “space” blanket, spare socks, a 24-hour supply of your daily medicine, and a spare layer such as a jacket, which can be stuffed into the pack or tied around your waist when it’s too hot to wear it.

Why all this stuff?  Imagine breaking your ankle and waiting six hours to be carried to a waiting vehicle for the two-hour ride back to Millinocket.  Assuming nothing goes wrong, you will also need to pack a meal and snacks for each person on the trip, as well as water to drink.  Camera, binoculars, toilet paper.  I carry a small-caliber sidearm to use for signaling and to discourage intrusive critters if I end up stuck in one spot too long, (not to kill an animal unless for safety or unless I need the food, but to frighten an unwelcome pest).   You MUST be equipped to unexpectedly stay overnight anywhere in the woods.  You MUST be prepared for NO CELL PHONE SERVICE six miles after leaving Millinocket.  The list could go on and on, but please give this serious thought before striking out as if going to a museum in a city.  Automobiles can take us to places where we would never be complacent if we had to get there by foot or horseback.  And if the automobile fails, or if someone becomes lost or injured, that’s when it suddenly becomes serious.

You could, of course, hire a Guide, who would look out for all of the above for you.

Let me add a few final words about the engines themselves.  One is a 2-8-0, the other a 4-6-0, both apparently coal-burners.  Being a rail historian, I have tried to learn their origins.  I cannot determine either the builder or the original purchaser (original railroad) of either.  The cab on the 4-6-0 is missing.  The other is intact, more or less.  There has been a little cosmetic work done on them since 2005, by whom I’m not sure, and frankly it’s hopeless.  I do believe, though, that there will be recognizable remnants of them there for the next 500 years or so.  Perhaps at some future date I will publish an article summarizing what I know about the locomotives and the railroad itself.  (I have tried to obtain a copy of Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad by Richard N. Symonds, Jr., and have even contacted the author, but the book is out of print and he knows of not one copy available.)

Here are a couple of web sites with more information, which you may be interested in:

http://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/discover_history_explore_nature/history/allagash/tram.shtml

https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/8534?t=Railroad+engine+and+cars%2C+Eagle+Lake+&+West+Branch+Railroad

I welcome comments and corrections to this set of directions.  -David A. Woodbury, Registered Maine Guide-

Eddie

I was hired by the Great Northern Paper Company in the mid-1970s and started out as a spare worker in the wood room, grinder room, and paper room.  In the mid-1980s the company had added a desk in the hallway between two other rooms in the personnel suite, and I had my first “office” as a personnel guy. In this period, I handled workers’ comp issues and minor complaints, among other assignments.  I never knew from day to day who might walk up to me with a question or request.

Eddie appeared before me at 8 a.m. one Tuesday morning after the had finished the 12-8 midnight shift.  I forget now what part of the mill he was working in.  I was just dropping a load of homework onto my desk, (in management you have homework), and I told him I had to go to a meeting right away.  Knowing that his schedule would be the same the next night and that he would be leaving again at 8 a.m., and also that he had a long drive home, I said, How about same time tomorrow?

Eddie smiled and said, Sure.  He went home and I went to my meeting.

Eddie is his real name.  I owe him that much.  He was a few years younger than I.  I was not well-acquainted with him, but he had certain distinctive features and I knew him to see him.  I realized that he lived about an hour a way, in a town outside Bangor.  He came from a large extended family, and his surname — family name — is well-known in that town.

Eddie was not a troublemaker and did not have a workers’ comp issue, so he was not a frequent visitor to the personnel offices.  He was a handsome young man, dark-haired and slight of build, careful, polite, and well-liked.  That much I already knew, and really nothing more.

The next morning, just before 8 a.m., I turned from Granite Street to drive into the parking lot at the mill.  Eddie’s car was approaching the stop sign before leaving the parking lot with several more cars behind his.  Our drivers’ doors came alongside each other right between the gateposts, but our windows were rolled up.  I gave him a quizzical look and put one hand up to emphasize a shrug.  He smiled, waved, and drove on out the gate.

I went to my desk and started my Wednesday duties.  Just before lunchtime a personnel assistant came over to tell me that Eddie had gone home that morning and blown his brains out.

This struck me very hard, and it remains one of the defining moments of my lifetime.  I was in my early thirties, gaining experience and confidence, enjoying life and good health.  There was nothing then nor is there anything now in my constitution that would identify with the impulse to destroy myself.  I would not have expected it of anyone else, although if I had listened to him when he first asked, I might have learned something of his anguish and I might have understood.

If I had listened… I don’t remember what the meeting was about that I went to instead, most likely a grievance in the first step, the method, according to the labor agreement (union contract), by which complaints were brought before management.  First step grievances were the most common type of meeting I attended in that position.

I still don’t know how to tell whether a life is at stake when someone asks: Can I talk to you?

I do know that is why I now stop and try to hear the message most of the time when someone speaks to me.  As a male, I am still a lousy listener, but I am attuned to the silent alarm in someone’s words the way I am sensitive to the hint of wood smoke on a summer breeze.

It was not long after Eddie died that Great Northern upgraded its Employee Assistance Program from one full day a week to three days, and soon afterward to five days a week — a full-time counselor stationed in downtown Millinocket at the company’s expense, not to hear grievances but to hear about personal trouble.  I participated in setting that up, although it was scaled back only a few years later as ownership of the company changed hands again and again.  One day in my role with the personnel department, and at the request of the EAP counselor, I participated in an intervention at the home of a GNP employee who actually handed me the revolver that he was intending to use on himself.  That helped resolve my sense of ineffectiveness after failing Eddie, but it didn’t bring him back.

I never learned what might have driven Eddie to do it.  I never spoke with a member of his family afterward or read about it anywhere.  Gossip moved freely through the mill, but his name never came up after he was gone.

What happened between Eddie and me is not identical, but hauntingly similar, to something that happened in my first year of college at the University of Cincinnati.  I had left the cafeteria one evening and was walking back to the dorm.  It was about 6 p.m. and growing dusky.  A girl I knew, Carol, was approaching alone.  We paused when we met, and she asked me what was on the menu.  I told her.  She thought about it, said it didn’t sound very interesting, and then she turned down the lane leading to the busy street that ran past the campus.  The next day we learned that, moments after I last saw her, she had been forced into a car at the nearby intersection, and her body had been dumped in a nearby park.  (The killer was later caught.)

I’ve always praised cafeteria food since then.

As a personnel guy, I participated in cleaning out employees’ lockers after they abandoned them.  A week or so after his death, I accompanied the mill guard who went to empty Eddie’s locker.  Most lockers were left with shoe fossils in the bottom covered with piles of stinky clothes, a sweat-stiffened baseball cap on a hook with a beaten hard hat over it, pinups and years-old calendars on the inside of the door, spilled shaving goo on the shelf above, sometimes some purloined mill equipment standing awkwardly against the back of the space.  Nothing surprising jumped out of Eddie’s locker at us.  But the guard and I stood there for a long interval, just regarding it with respect.  Eddie’s did not have the usual disgusting inventory.  There were clean clothes neatly folded in the bottom, including bright white T-shirts.  There was shower gear arranged on the top shelf in an orderly manner, a clean soap dish with a handful of small change in it, a belt hanging from a hook.  There might have been more, but that gives the general impression; it was the cleanest locker we had ever seen.  The things he had left behind we bagged and gave to someone higher up, who, we assume, passed them on to his family.

101_2635

I know I am not responsible for Eddie’s death.  I’ve been absolved of that.  And if I had taken the time to hear him out that Tuesday morning, I might not have prevented his death.  Maybe he just wanted change for a dollar or had lost the key to his locker.  But it affected my character and it changed the way I do some things.  If sharing it in this way gives anyone else the nudge to pause and listen, to a friend, a child, a co-worker, or, especially, to someone we are less well-acquainted with but who asks for an ear, then maybe Eddie can help save a life these many years after his own ended so inexplicably.

Message in a Bottle

img_4015Let’s go back.  Who remembers the days before the returnable container law?  A little research shows that the Maine legislature passed the act to require a five-cent deposit on beverage containers in 1976.

Before that, a teenager with a .22 rifle could pass a summer afternoon walking a country road, shooting bottles in the ditch.  If we went in pairs, we might set them onto rocks and use them more practically for target practice.  Cans were a little less practical.  A .22 bullet would sometimes pierce the can without so much as disturbing its equilibrium – you had to walk right up to it to see whether it had even taken a hit.  A bottle, on the other hand, gave a satisfying explosion.

Plastic containers were still a few years off when I used to walk the roads reducing glass containers to inconspicuous fragments.  The plastic bottles you can still shoot that don’t cost you your deposit are milk containers right down to the single-serving 16-ounce size.  You don’t lose your nickel because there is no deposit.  For this reason, single-serving chocolate milk containers in Number 2 plastic can still be found in ditches.  No one wants to pick them up.  But they are unsatisfactory as targets unless you fill them first with ditch water before setting them onto rocks or fence posts.  With water in them they don’t blow down, and a hit gives you a tell-tale stream of water from the holes.  (Caution: Firearms safety dictates that you never shoot a target resting on or near a rock.  I now observe this safety rule, but in my early days of shooting I was much more confident of my marksmanship.)

Maybe I’m the reason there is a bottle law.  Maybe some state senator’s kid lacerated himself on a bottle fragment when his bicycle haplessly carried him into a ditch alongside a road in Franklin County in the 1960s.  Or maybe someone was incensed that people in cars were so insensitive then that they would drink beer after beer and chuck the bottles onto the roadside and leave them as scattered eyesores.

I can imagine someone driving along with a “roady” – typically a can or bottle of Budweiser – and sailing the empty into the air from an open car window.  (Never did it myself.)  I can picture a carload of 18-year-olds defiantly doing this back when I was 18.  (I never pitched one from a back window either.)  The drinking age in Maine was 21 from Prohibition until 1969, 20 from 1969 to 1972, 18 from 1972 to 1977, 20 from 1977 to 1985, and 21 ever since then.

I have no idea why the legislature tinkered with it so much at the time, but I remember the confusion then:

Can I have a beer?  How old are you?  Nineteen.  What’s the drinking age?  I dunno, they just passed a law.  They just passed one a couple years ago.  It went down.  No it went up,  how old are you now?  Still 19.  I think it’s 20.  I’ll be 20 when this discussion is over.  OK, have a beer.

The next time you’re in a grocery store, look closely for ME -5¢ on beverage containers.  You will find this on sodas and beer, of course.  And on wine or liquor it’s 15¢.  You will find ME -5¢ on Splash and orange juice.  On spring water and “energy” drinks.

You will even find ME -5¢ on half-gallon jugs of prune juice.

Think about it.  Back in the 1960s and early 1970s Maine wanted to discourage those casual hellions who were tossing their empty beverage containers from car windows as they cruised the countryside.  Who, pray tell, ever drank down a half gallon of prune juice, while driving, and then tossed the empty into a ditch?

The prune juice lobbyist at the state capitol must be only a part-time position.  But you can tell that the dairy lobby is well-staffed.  Milk containers are exempted from the bottle law.  Are we to conclude from this that far more hooligans guzzle prune juice while they text and drive than swill milk?

I notice, too, that the legislature of 1976 desired, in addition to the already-extant littering fine, to make the forfeit of 5¢ per container a sufficient incentive for a carload of teenagers to hold onto their bottles so when they were through drinking they would rush to the nearest returnable center and redeem the six-pack of empties for a full 30¢.  Well, 35 years ago 30¢ was worth about four times as much today.  Isn’t it about time to raise the deposit?

Bottle deposits didn’t begin in 1976, however.  Remember those upright soda dispensers with the heavy glass bottles lying on their sides so that the caps were visible through a door on the left side of the machine?  These were not just returnable bottles that were crushed and recycled, they were actually washed and re-used.  After a few refills, a six-ounce single-serving bottle would be quite roughed up and abraded.  Some were painted in two colors for the brand – Royal Crown, Moxie, 7-Up!  The paint usually stood up well through numerous refills.

The price for a bottle of pop in the 1950s?  Five cents.  You didn’t walk off the premises with your drink in those days either.  Once you had finished you six ounces of refreshment, you stood the empty in a wide, sectioned wooden crate that rested next to the vending machine.  If you were determined to take it with you, you paid the shop keeper a 2¢ deposit.  And finding an empty bottle in a ditch meant a trip to the gas station or wherever you could find the nearest vending machine, in order to collect the pennies, which still had value then.

The deposit in the olden days was not due to an act of the legislature.  It was the bottling company’s value of its bottles.  If you wanted to keep the bottle, you had to literally buy it.  And you could sell it back for the same 2¢ price.

Two cents in 1957 was worth 4¢ by 1976 (using the Consumer Price Index), so the first bottle law in Maine had it about on par at 5¢, but that 2¢ is now 16¢ today, an eight-fold increase.

That same eight-fold increase suggests that a six-ounce drink that sold for 5¢ would be worth about 40¢ today.  But you don’t find a single-serving drink of that size any longer.  It’s generally about 16 ounces (ranging from 12 to 20), and 16 ounces should go for about $1.07 today.

In 1957 the legislature of most states had not thought of taxing a nickel Coke.  Now the Maine tax on your buck-and-a-half soda is seven percent, which adds about a dime to the price.  (You could have bought two Cokes 55 years ago for just the tax on a soda today — that’s if our money would hold still…)

I just happened to think of all this when I was picking up 23 beer cans all in one spot alongside the Golden Road last week.  I’ll get $1.15 for them when I turn them in, but I was more interested in cleaning up the roadside.  I guide in that area, and I’m a little sensitive to what visitors see.  And I thought: If the deposit on these cans were 20¢ apiece now, about even with the change in the cost of everything else compared to 1976, then someone ditching a suitcase of empties would be forfeiting close to five dollars.

I had to have some fun, though.  So earlier this week, I bought a giant bottle of prune juice.  You might have seen me driving around Lincoln on Monday and Tuesday, window rolled down, slowly slurping from that half-gallon bottle.  I held it so the label could easily be visible: Del Monte Prune Juice.  It took me two days to drink it, but fortunately I like the taste of that stuff.

And when I finished it, I drove down one of the roads leading out of town, (I’m not saying which road), and when I was sure no one was looking — I CHUCKED THAT BOTTLE OUT THE WINDOW!

There!  There has been a stupid 5¢ deposit on prune juice bottles since the law of 1976, and I may be the first person who EVER committed the act with a prune juice bottle.

And therein lies my message in a bottle: I think certain drinks in certain sizes should be exempt from the deposit, or else milk should cease to be exempted, and I think the bottle deposit should be raised to 20¢ or even 25¢ to keep up with the ever-continuing erosion of the dollar.