Reminiscence of a Roustabout
By Archie Madden 1987
Archie Hugh Madden was born in Amherst, Mass. in 1904. His parents, John and Anne, were from the Baccaro, Shelburne Co area. They were married there in 1879 and had their first child in Canada before moving to the US in the late 1890s. Following Archie’s birth in 1904 the family relocated again, this time to the Yarmouth Bar where Archie spent his teenage years before leaving to live in the US. Archie Madden became an Entomologist, engaged in the scientific study of insects and he lived in the US until his death in 1994. The following transcript written in 1987 by Archie, is about his experience working for the Parker Eakins Co. at the Yarmouth Bar in 1920-21. The transcript has had only a few minor text and grammar revisions. Images drawn by Archie are included in this story along with historic pictures of the Yarmouth Bar and area. Some additional details have been added in footnotes.
*Note: Click on the photos to enlarge
George, a neighbor and friend a couple years my senior, had been employed at the Yarmouth Bar branch of Parker Eakins Company, Ltd. (referred to locally as the Firm), as clerk and general handyman, for a couple of years or so, but, with the opening of the lobstering season, he would be buying small lobsters (tinkers) from the local fishermen both at the Bar and across the harbor at Rum Nubble and John Little, manager of the Firm, wanted me to take over his usual job.
To say simply that I was delighted is perhaps putting it too mildly. I had been out of school a couple of years, but working around the place with a limited income obtained from an occasional odd job away from home didn't present a very glowing picture of future prosperity, and I was nearly sixteen already. Now opportunity was knocking, a steady job with possibilities of advancement!
I had read most of Horatio Alger' s books and knew all about Rags to Riches. I would work hard, marry the boss's daughter, get rich and live happily ever after. The only trouble was that John Little didn't have any daughter, he was childless, and if there was any marrying of daughters to do, George would do it. He was a husky six-footer weighing around one hundred and eighty pounds, against my five foot eleven and one hundred and fifty, with dark hair, blue eyes and handsome appearance. All the girls were crazy over him. It was true that he had no right thumb. His younger brother cut it off with an axe during one of their childhood games. However, this was a minor disfigurement. Well, no matter, John Little, himself, had started out as a common roustabout, hadn't married the boss's daughter and now was cock-of-the-walk, at least at the Bar.
I want to say, at this point, how much I admired George's strength, neatness and efficiency. He could write with four fingers better than I could with my whole hand, and was adept at any task involving manual dexterity. I tried hard to imitate him, during all my days at the Firm, but failed to measure up in any category.
Parker Eakins, wholesale grocers, was located on the waterfront of Yarmouth along with several other businesses, including a couple of coal companies and the Yarmouth Steamship Company. Their large wharehouses occupied a long wharf, the office and store, at the base of the wharf, opened on Water Street and the railroad track, directly across the street, made it possible for freight cars to be unloaded right at the door. I am vague as to the history of the company, but I think that it was involved originally with exporting dried salt fish to the West Indies and importing molasses, etc in return. Mr. Parker and
Mr. Eakins both were gone, before my day, but I remember Charles Robbins who was headman at the Bar for many years. Now the only officials I was aware of were Bernard Robbins (Charles's young son) and Frank Kenny, the bookkeeper, who, some wags used to say, used a double-leaded pencil so that he could charge everything twice. Neither of these men ever showed their noses at the Bar.
I don't know when the cannery was started at the Firm, but it now bought the small lobsters from the fishermen, outfitting and supplying them in return, and accounts were settled at the end of the season. Thus it represented sort of a trading post, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the fishermen never got entirely out of debt.
So much for vague history, but perhaps I have cited enough to explain my pleasure at the thought of being associated with an organization of such high standing in the community, even in a most humble capacity. Be that as it may, early on the following Monday morning, I joined George in front of his house for the half-mile or so walk to the Firm and the beginning of my initiation in the new job. Webster's Dictionary defines roustabout (in part) as follows: l: Deckhand, Longshoreman 2: an unskilled or semi-skilled laborer 3: A circus worker. In addition to that of a so-called clerk, I
Adjacent to the end of the dry-fish warehouse was a small shed in which bedding for the horse was stored, and the stable stood next to it. The bulk of the wooden racks (flakes) on which fish were dried lay north of the henhouse, between it and the "Cookhouse; where many of the workers had been boarded in the "good old days." This group of buildings comprised practically all, if not all, of the real estate belonging to the Firm.
During my first week I kept closely under George's wing, trying to "learn the ropes", and there was a lot to learn, both then and in the future, but mainly I learned all about perpetual motion, and I never had been so busy before. I was off that Sunday, since George offered to do the chores and handle any business that might arise, and when I finally crawled out of bed that morning, had breakfast and dragged myself across the road to the shore, I still was completely exhausted. However, I was making. six whole dollars a week! I was on my way.
The second week, I was on my own. I was familiar with the premises, having played there or fished off the wharf almost ever since I could remember. I even had been inside the shop, since I used to be sent there for the mail before the rural route was established, but I never had been inside any of the other buildings. Now I had keys to all of them, fixed on a ring attached to my overalls by a chain. Also, I was settling into the routine.
I always arrived at 7:40am, or before, unlocked the shop, opened the shutters over the front windows and made a fire in the small coal-stove in the office so that the room would be warm by the time Mr. Little returned from breakfast. He already would have been down and unlocked the second lock on the door, otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to enter. After lighting the office fire, I filled the baseburner in the shop and removed the ashes from both stoves. Then, unless interrupted by early customers, I hurried off to feed the horse and do the chores at the cookhouse. This involved filling the baseburner, bringing soft coal from the porch for the kitchen stove and pails of wash and drinking water to the kitchen from the same place. Then, after removing the ashes from both stoves, I returned to the shop, not forgetting to take the wooden box in which I would bring kindling for the kitchen fire before I went home at night.
Back at the shop, if there had been an early tide, I knew there soon would be a mob of hurried fishermen rushing me for gasoline and oil and that I would be in for a hectic hour or so. Gasoline, as stated previously, was kept in the Icehouse, in two 150 gallon tanks, and was drawn off through brass faucets located at the bottom edges. I should explain, at this point, that a gallon was the British imperial liquid measure which is almost twenty percent greater in volume than the U. S. gallon.
Gasoline was drawn into a five-gallon measuring can and then poured into the customer's container along with a pint or pint-and-a-half of cylinder oil, according to the preference of the individual buyer. Since all the marine engines in use were four-cycle, oil was added to the gasoline instead of being placed in the crankcase. Failure to include the oil might result in a scored cylinder and a ruined engine.
Oil was kept on tap in wooden barrels, two brands being available. Some fishermen preferred Polarine4 others Arctic. It was my responsibility to see that the oil was added if I went alone for the order while the customer was busy elsewhere. If I forgot and a ruined engine resulted, it was my neck.
Of course all the sales were on credit and I entered the charges on a tally board and recorded them later in the daybook which remained on my desk in the store. With five or six eager fishermen all clamoring to be served at once it often was impossible to record a sale, or even several, at the time made. Thus there was the constant worry that I might forget to charge someone. I guess Mr. Little worried about it too, for when he discovered that on a certain date (usually the previous day) no charge had been made against one of our customers, he wanted to know why. I had better have the answer.
Tally boards were smooth wooden boards of a convenient size which were taken from the boxes or caddys which had contained plugs of tobacco. Records were made on both sides with lead pencil and, when both sides were filled, they were planed off, this process being continued until the board became too thin for further use. All outside records were made on tally boards.
Another headache for me was involved in the sale of gasoline. If I was alone in the shop with a roomful of loitering fishermen and someone came for gasoline, I was under strict orders to rout them out and lock up before leaving for the icehouse. Between the wrath of the fishermen, if I did, and the wrath of Mr. Little, if he found that I hadn't, there wasn’t much choice, tempting me at times to take a chance. Fortunately, this situation didn't occur too often. It arose only when Mr. Little was at the cook-house for lunch and George was not in the store eating his so that he was in charge while I was out.
Gasoline came from the Imperial Oil Company in Yarmouth and was delivered in a tank truck drawn by a pair of horses driven by Herbie Cook, a small, muscular young man who took his job quite seriously. Herbie backed the vehicle so that the rear end was opposite the open door of the icehouse. Then he drew off the gasoline into two five-gallon cans, carried them to the back of the building, handed them to me and I poured them into one of our tanks through a funnel. This process was repeated until the entire load was delivered. In later years, Herbie was equipped with a modern auto tank truck, but we still unloaded by hand until a gasoline pump with an underground tank was installed.
Gasoline was by no means the only product sold at the Firm, but it was certainly the most important and produced the greatest income. During the lobstering season, from the first of April to the first of June, I would sell between four and five thousand gallons. I had no reason to be aware of the price, but I do have a note stating that on May 28, nineteen and twenty-three, the price was thirty-seven cents per gallon. Adding to this the cost of the necessary pint or pint-and-one-half of oil indicates that the total take during the two-month period must have amounted to quite a respectable sum. Furthermore, the fishermen couldn't do without it. It was used not only for fuel to propel their boats but also for the small stationary engines which powered the lobster trap hoists. The usual purchase was five gallons, but this might be made twice or even three times a day.
Additional items available and needed by the lobstermen included: lobster bait, wooden crates in which lobsters were shipped, oilskins, rubber boots wire nails, rope, engine parts, large dry-cell batteries (these provided the electrical current for the engines), oil for the oilcups which lubricated the crankshaft bearings and grease for the grease cups.
The cash drawer was located under the counter below the space occupied by the desk. There was a metal contraption fixed outside the bottom of the drawer into which the finger tips could be placed, a little depression for each of four fingers.
These depressions, or cups, were connected to stiff wires in such a way that, if the proper combination of fingers was used, the drawer could be pulled open. If the wrong combination was used, the drawer remained closed and a bell rang, serving as a
The shelves behind the counter were stocked with few canned goods, since most of the groceries were sold in bulk, from one to five pounds usually, but there would be a good supply of canned condensed milk. The remaining spaces were filled with packages of tea, matches, yeast cakes, starch, spices, cans of cocoa and baking powder, lamp wicks and chimneys, lantern globes, chewing and smoking tobacco, cigarettes and chewing gum. There might be a few packages of raisins and there were always bottles of Minard's Liniment, for exterior aches and pains: Johnson's Anodyne5, for those of the interior and probably containing a high percentage of alcohol, and, finally the inevitable bottles of castor oil, the universal cure-all.
The scales rested on the anterior portion of the rear section of the counter, and a paper rack, carrying a short and a long roll of wrapping paper, stood near the further end. There must have been a dispenser for wrapping twine, but I can't remember its location or appearance. A double row of wooden nail kegs, containing spikes and all sizes of common nails, both wire and galvanized, rested on the floor in front of this section of counter.
Since little or no business was transacted over the anterior portion of the counter, it provided a lounging place for idle fishermen, the only other seat in the room being an armchair beside the baseburner. The shelves behind this portion of the counter were empty for the most part, perhaps serving as a reminder of more opulent times. At the outer end of this section, wooden cases, filled with bottled soda water, were stacked against the front wall of the shop with an opener fastened to the wall for the convenience of the customer.
The soda was obtained from the Yarmouth Fruit Company and consisted mainly of fruit flavors with some sarsaprilla and ginger ale. After a time, Jack McCann put out a superior product, but the bulk of our stock still came from the Fruit Company. I guess that Parker-Eakins must have been able to make a more profitable deal with them.
There was a closet in the partial partition behind and to the left of the baseburner. Dry-cell batteries and magnetos were kept in this closet and a barometer hung on the wall beside it. How often I would see a fisherman walk up and tap the front of this instrument to see if it was rising or falling, indicating either fair weather or a coming storm.
A corner of the front portion of the shop, opposite the counter, was partitioned off. This provided a small office where Mr. Little stood most of the day behind a tall desk working on the books or adding figures three columns at a time, i.e. by the hundreds. Probably he could have competed quite successfully with a computer. There were two large windows in the partition so that he could see what was going on in the shop just by glancing up. Occasionally, especially if there was a group of fishermen present, he would amble out like a big, clumsy, jovial bear to indulge in a bit of horseplay. At other times he emerged, not so jovially, to give me "a piece of his mind.
One of the front windows of the shop opened into the office and the small coal-burning stove stood in the corner beside it. An old-fashioned, crank-operated telephone was fastened to the rear wall of the office. It was the only telephone on the Bar, but people didn't have much use for telephones in those days. The face of the safe was at the end of the office and it extended out into the rear portion of the shop.
I have forgotten to mention the fact previously that Mr. Little dressed in a manner befitting the dignity of his position. He always wore a dark-colored, three-piece suit, white shirt, collar and tie, the entire outfit topped of by a soft, tweedy-looking hat. Occasionally, he might work in the office in his shirt sleeves, but he donned his coat when he stepped out of the shop. There was one item of furnishings in the office that one could never forget though, and that was the spittoon. Mr. Little was an avid tobacco chewer and it was my unpleasant job to empty and clean this receptacle at frequent intervals.
To continue with the description of the interior of the shop, a small table stood in front of the office partition. Placed on it was a large wooden box containing a stenciling outfit, and a small vise was fixed at one end for the convenience of anyone needing to do any vising.
Bulk groceries were kept in the rear of the shop, including one-hundred pound bags of sugar and twenty-four and ninety- eight pound bags of Robin Hood flour. It was amusing to think of Robin Hood and Little John being together in the same establishment, only in this case they were robbing the poor instead of the rich. That's not entirely true, but lacking competition, the Firm certainly bought low and sold high thus, they had the poor fishermen both coming and going. That is, they paid a low price for lobsters and charged a high price for their goods.
In addition to the bags of sugar and flour, there were barrels of flour, white sugar, brown sugar, oatmeal, cornmeal, split-peas, crackers, beans (both white and yellow-eyed) and feed for the horse and hens. There were coils of rope, straw brooms and always a tub of compound and one of pure lard. Suspended from hooks in the ceiling were such items as oilskin coats and pants, rubber boots, lanterns, stovepipe elbows and wooden swivels for lobster pot buoys.
A door at the back of the store gave entrance to a small lean-to in which a hogshead of molasses and a barrel of kerosene were kept on tap. I say kerosene, but for some unknown reason it was called coal oil. A barrel of cupgrease also was kept in this area.
All-in-all the merchandise stocked represented such a hodgepodge of groceries, hardware and dry goods that probably I have forgotten a number of items. At least, I recall that there was no demand for perishable foods. None of our customers had refrigerators. They didn't even have ice boxes.
As with the gasoline, it was my job to keep an eye on the supply of stock and let Mr. Little know when to order more. Goods were brought by George, in the motorboat, from the main store in Yarmouth.
After the above lengthy detour, it's time to get on with the day's work which often was far from routine. For example, coal or water might be needed at the cookhouse. No wells are possible on the Bar which is just a wide strip of beach with saltwater on both sides. George brought drinking water from Yarmouth in wooden barrels of around thirty gallons capacity. Wash water, in the same size barrels, was rainwater caught from the roof of one of the buildings on the wharf. I wheeled all of the water used at the cookhouse and placed it in the porch. Since each barrel of water weighed around two hundred and fifty pounds, I was able to transport only one at a time. Also, because of the weight, it was a struggle to load them onto the wheelbarrow and wrestle them into the porch. The following record indicates how often this job had to be repeated. From April 9 to June 2, 1923, I wheeled twenty-one barrels of drinking water and ten barrels of wash water. It appears that they drank more than they washed. Of course the drinking water also was used for cooking. During the same period, I also wheeled thirteen barrels of hard coal, for the base-burner, and ten tubs of soft coal, for the kitchen stove.
Around once a week some farmer would come for a load of lobster shells and bodies, stored in a large bin beside the factory building, and it was another of my jobs to wait on him. We would fill a barrel, place it on the scale, I would weigh it and record the weight on a tally board, then we would dump it into the wagon, repeating the operation over and over until the load was completed. This was a long and slow process and often several fishermen would appear for gasoline before the job was done.
Then, since the farmer was under as much pressure with spring work as the fishermen were with the rush of the lobstering season, a real conflict of interest arose. Of course the fishermen always won and some of the farmers would become quite abusive over the delay feeling, most properly, that first come should be first served. One of them was observed by Mr. Little to be helping himself during my absence, which only added to my troubles. If George happened to be around, he was willing to take over, thus getting me off the hook.
There were a number of catch-as-can jobs one of which was cleaning the horse and her stall. On stormy days, when there was some spare time, I polished pan and arm of the counter scale, weighed and wrapped small lots of sugar, lard and cupgrease, putting them on the shelves in readiness for Iater sale. If more time happened to be available, I would go up into the factory loft and break up empty wooden packing cases for kindling. In those days, all groceries that didn't come in bags or barrels, came in these cases. There were no cardboard cartons.
I swept the store floor as often as time and opportunity permitted, but it didn't make much impression on boards blackened by tobacco juice and the muck brought in on the men's boots. Once, I sprinkled sand on the floor and left It to be trod on for a day. When I swept this time, the floor became almost pure white, but it didn't remain that way very long. The buckets of water I threw on the floor Saturday evenings, before Mr. Little left for Yarmouth, were not for cleaning purposes but for fire protection in case any live coals might fly out of the baseburner. This was almost impossible, but Mr. Little never wanted to leave anything to chance.
At the close of each day, routine took over again, and I picked up the box of kindling, fed the horse and hens and gathered the eggs, on my way to the cookhouse, where I repeated the morning chores. Sometime during the course of the day I had managed to wolf my lunch, often almost a bite at a time. Once or twice I never got a chance to eat it at all.
During the lobstering season, I reported for work around ten a.m. on Sundays, did the chores and any necessary waiting on customers.
This took about two hours. Then I returned around four p.m. and did the evening chores. After the lobstering season, when Mr. and Mrs. Little had moved back to Yarmouth, it was necessary only to go down in the afternoon and feed the hens, unless someone wanted gasoline. The horse, of course, was at Mr. Little's home.
There were few sales for cash since the bulk of the business, as I already have explained, was operated on a credit basis, but some money would be taken in each day, the amount varying from fifteen cents to twenty dollars, the usual amount being around five to seven dollars. Since there was no cash register, I was supposed to record the amounts of such sales in a separate book, but sometimes I forgot to do this. Mr. Little started the day by putting five dollars in change into the appropriate depressions in the cash drawer. Then, at the end of the day's business, he counted the money and checked the amount against my records. When there was a shortage of a few cents, I was treated to a lecture ending with his favorite statement: "You're going to put Parker-Eakins in the poorhouse."
Because of cash sales, I did know the price of some items, and mention of some of these prices which I remember might be of interest. Chewing tobacco was ten or twelve cents per plug, depending upon the brand, smoking tobacco was fifteen cents per plug and twenty cents per package (most men preferred to buy the plug and cut their own). Lampwicks were one cent, small; two cents, medium, and three cents, large. Yeast cakes were eight cents box. Washing powder was ten cents per package. Wire nails were seven cents per pound, and galvanized nails twelve cents. Cream of tartar (baking powder) was twenty cents per quarter pound. Molasses was a dollar and forty cents per gallon, and Porridge Wheat6 (a cereal) was twenty-three cents per small package and forty-five cents per large package.
I have neglected to mention an arduous and sometimes time-consuming portion of the day's work, often squeezed in between what was considered by Mr. Little as being more urgent. This was the job of keeping the branch shop up in the cove, about one-half mile away, supplied with goods. It was a small one-room yellow-painted building with pale blue trim. There was an open area, directly inside the door, with a wooden bench for loungers fastened to the side and end walls. The coal stove stood in this area. A short partition, behind the stove, enclosed a small space containing the kerosene tank. Shelves occupied the remaining space, attached to the rear wall and continuing along around the adjoining end wall. An ell-shaped counter fronted these shelves with a glass showcase occupying at least one-half of the long side, facing the open area.
This establishment was presided over by Emma Watkins7, a gray, wrinkled, gnome-like little woman with a haughty bearing, who had been born without feet. Emma had come to Yarmouth Bar with her family, as a young girl, and my parents raised enough money by subscription to buy her a small rubber-tired wagon in which her twin-brothers used to drag her about. Indoors, she used a wheelchair.
I don't know when or how she became connected with the shop, but it certainly had become her life work, and if John Little was the King of the Bar, there was no question of her being the queen. I believe her greatest pleasure was sitting in the doorway in her wheelchair on a fine day, yellow pencil sticking aggressively out of one side of her hairdo, bowing and smiling regally as some American tourist passed by in a big chauffeur-driven automobile.
In addition to her position as storekeeper, she wrote a column of local items for the weekly paper, published in Yarmouth. She certainly was in a suitable position for picking up all the gossip and it added to her prestige, at least in her own estimation. The classic item, written about her nephew, provided derisive amusement for the entire community. I quote: " Little Clayton Watkins, while picking up firewood on the seashore, picked up a feet."
Emma carried all the groceries, soda water, tobacco, and patent medicines sold by the Firm, but she stocked a wider range of canned goods. In addition, she sold cornflakes, bananas, peanuts, peanut butter, lemon pie filler, ink, stationery, stamps and penny candy (displayed in open cardboard boxes under the show-case on the counter). I delivered all these items by wheelbarrow, excepting for kerosene which I carried in two cans, eight gallons at a time. I kept her supplied with paper bags, wrapping paper and the thin wooden "shells" in which lard and similar items was wrapped and sold. I also brought soft coal for the stove. From April 9 to June 2, 1923, I delivered eighty gallons of kerosene and five barrels of coal to Emma’s store. I sometimes made as many as three trips to her store in a day.
Unlike the Firm's, Emma's business was strictly on a cash basis, although she may have given credit occasionally on her own responsibility. Furthermore, she had competition, created by Phil McVicar, who operated a small store further around the cove.
Phil McVicar too was a cripple. He lost both legs when he was run over by a beer truck, out in Milwaukee, I believe. Returning to Yarmouth Bar, after an absence of some years, he built the store, with living quarters in one end, and he and his wife ran it together until she died. After her death, his cousin, Jane Grey, from Kemptville, came to keep house for him and to help him in the store. She was a small, white-haired woman with a speech impediment, perhaps slightly feeble-minded, but with a strong feeling of loyalty to "Mister Vic." When the rumor circulated that Phil's scale was inaccurate, she made the indignant statement "I dess Mister Vic's tail is just as white as Emmy's tail."
I could count on the fact that before I was very far into the day's work one of her orders, written on a scrap torn from a sheet of brown wrapping paper and delivered by one of her nephews, would arrive. George had tipped me off, early on, as to Emma's importance in the scheme of things, so I would ignore this if more pressing business demanded my attention. Before long another note would appear asking why I hadn't delivered the order. This would be followed by more notes, each more frantic and indignant than the last until, finally, a lull would occur and I could make the trip. That didn't increase my popularity with Emma. She probably felt that a waiting customer would turn to Phil's store.
I never did any work in connection with the canning of lobsters, aside from helping, to hoist the crates of live lobsters from the dock. However, l was familiar with the process which was conducted in a large room with whitewashed walls and ceiling, and a concrete floor always kept scrupulously clean. This room occupied nearly all of the lower floor of the building and there was an annex, at the head of the wharf, where the boiling was done.
After boiling, the lobsters were separated into tails, claws and bodies, the tails and claws being carried into the factory and the bodies to the bin outsides the building. The tails went to one table and the claws, minus thumbs and knuckles, to another. Thumbs and knuckles went to their respective tables. All these tables were lined with galvanized iron, and it was here that the meat was removed from the shells, the empty shells being carried to the outside bin also. The meat went to the packing table where it was placed into tissue-lined, quarter-pound tins. After being weighed, the tins went to the sealing machine where the covers were attached. Then they were placed in a large retort (autoclave) for sterilization under steam pressure. After cooling, they were packed in wooden cases, completing the process.
The boiling room was presided over by Joe Hunt8 and Louis Penny9, long-time employees of the Firm. They were small men, always dressed in "wreck clothing" protected, of course, by oilcloth aprons in the boiling room. The term wreck clothing requires a bit of digression by the way. After World War I, an American steamship loaded with relief flour and clothing being shipped to some impoverished European nation, ran ashore near Mud Island, and before the U.S. Navy arrived to guard the wreck, it had been pretty well stripped of its cargo by boats from the Bar and other places along the coast. The clothing was surplus, tropical army uniforms, consisting of tunics and riding breeches, which must have been intended for midgets because they were of very small size. However, they fitted Joe and Lewis quite well and they must have had several suits -- which probably had been up for grabs -- for I never saw them dressed in anything else, summer or winter.
The knuckles (joints between body and claw) went to the longest table, because it involved a lot of labor to break them apart and extract the small bits of meat. This work was done mainly by children (both boys and girls) for school attendance at the Bar was almost nil and there were no child labor laws.
Penny's oldest son, Alfred, also worked at this table. Alfred was a young man with limited intelligence, and large, flat feet, which won him the nickname of "Pie Feet", sometimes shortened to "Pie". He had, however, the fastest pair of arms and hands of any human being I have ever seen. Watching him picking knuckles, which involved a rhythmic motion of upper body and shoulders as well as arms and hands, was like watching a ballet. And when he was called on, as he always was, to line the empty tins with the waxed tissue paper, it was a sight to behold. The left hand picked up the empty tin, while the right grasped a sheet of tissue, thrust it into the tin and, with a quick twist of the wrist, lined the bottom and sides of the tin with a couple of triangular points protruding, which were folded over to cover the meat after it was packed in the tin. All this was done almost faster than the eye could see, and it was accompanied by the usual body motion. He could line a case of empty tins, perfectly, in a matter of minutes, and how he did it always will remain a mystery to me. I guess that it must have been a case of what is called "natural ability.
The boss of the factory was, Pat Cairo, one of the French-Canadians, who also fired the boiler, which generated the steam for boiling the lobsters and sterilizing the tins; and operated the steam pump which pumped salt water from the harbor as needed. Fresh water came to the factory by gravity feed from a well located on the northwest end of Gape Forchu, but, as I mentioned previously, it had such a brackish taste it was undrinkable.
The close of the lobstering season marked a change in the day's activities. I spent little time in the store but, instead, helped George with a wide variety of outside jobs. The hours still were from seven a.m. to six p.m., but I couldn't even get into the store until nine, or after, when Mr. Little arrived from Yarmouth.
Our first job was to dismantle, paint and store all the factory equipment. We also gave the steam boiler and retort a coat of lampblack and oil. Then too, since fires were out for the summer, I blacked the baseburner and office stove. After work in the factory was completed, we attended to minor repairs on the outside of the buildings, such as replacing loose shingles, etc.
My dealings with the horse were involved mainly with unharnessing and harnessing, night and morning. The summer of nine-teen twenty-two, when Mr. Little began driving back and forth in a pick-up truck, she was turned loose to run wild on the west end of Cape Forchu, and I remember taking her to the blacksmith shop in Milton (the northern section of Yarmouth) in the fall to be shod, leading her with a halter. Mr. Little didn't trust me to drive her, ignoring the fact that I had been driving our family ox-team for several years. However, perhaps he thought that a skittish horse was different from a placid ox, and as I have mentioned before, he wasn't one to take chances. I. was permitted to wash the buggy, though, but only George was allowed to wash and polish his personal McLaughlin-Buick touring car10, which he drove on Saturdays, but I could check and pump up the tires.
Charlie Hicks, operating the hoist on the schooner's deck, made a similar record and chant, excepting that, every so often, he would call out a score one-step ahead of George's. He did this either out of devilment or, perhaps, with the hope of slipping in a spurious hundred pounds occasionally. In any case George never got rattled and always kept the record straight. In fact, I think that he really enjoyed the challenge.
As soon as convenient, the fish were wheeled from the shed and placed on wooden flakes for drying, a process which extended over the remainder of the summer. The flakes were bench-like structures covered with wooden slats, triangular in cross section, and laid a couple of inches apart with the apex of the triangle upward.
The flakes occupied about a quarter acre of beach between the henhouse and the cookhouse. They were arranged in rows with a wooden track for wheelbarrows between each row. The open Bay of Funday lay just a few yards beyond one end and the opposite end abutted the highway. There also was a long flake, called the "Fore-and-After”, on the opposite side of the road, running from just about opposite the cookhouse down almost to the stable. The area covered represented a mere fraction of that required in former times. I remember when the flakes ran hal-way to Emma's shop, at least on the harbor side.
On reflection, after all these years, it occurs to me that Joe and Louis were smarter than we realized. Why should they rush? There was no percentage in it for them. "Kingdom, kingdom”; as Louis might say, or "by Crackey", which was Joe's favorite cuss word.
Since Mr. Little never arrived until late in the morning, it was our responsibility to start the work, judging whether or not it might remain fair and no fog roll in. If we guessed wrong and a couple of hours was wasted, too bad for us: The few cents credited unnecessarily to Louis's and Joe's accounts would certainly put Parker-Eakins into the poorhouse!
On foggy or stormy days, or during the hours not involved in handling fish, we busied ourselves with miscellaneous jobs. George caulked and painted the "Scow" (the catboat I remember having seen sailing in the harbor), hauled up on the beach in front of the cookhouse and, now, reduced to the ignominy of being towed about when afloat. I, among other things, kept the floor of the dry-fish building dusted with lime to reduce moisture. There were fewer trips to Emma's shop and, of course none to the cookhouse.
Sometimes I went to Yarmouth with George in the motor boat for a load of supplies and there I learned just how unimportant we were in the eyes of "Headquarters'. On arrival, we would find our order assembled in front of the Store, but would be obliged to wait until Jeb Moffatt, who drove for the company, finished more important deliveries before he trucked our goods down on the Wharf where we could load them into the boat. It made me feel like Emma Watkins.
At least once during the summer, we carried a boatload of kindling, stuffed into burlap bags, over across the harbor and landed it on the shore below Mr. Little’s house. Then we toted it across Water Street, the tracks of the Halifax and Southwestern railroad and up the long hill through a field to his cellar. It was a laborious job involving several trips from the shore to the cellar. One summer, when George was away for a few days, I did this job alone, using a rowboat and crossing the harbor, both ways, in a fog thick enough to be cut with a knife.
It was getting along toward the end of December. I had been on the job for nine months and felt that I had passed, what might be called my probationary period; with reasonable success. I even had learned to cope with Suze Penny (Louis's notorious wife) when she came for groceries in amounts and prices far in excess of his means. Thus, I had no doubt but that I had a life-time job; an attractive dream. Then came the rude awakening. The Saturday before Christmas, when Mr. Little handed me my wages, he also handed me a severe shock. He told me that I wouldn't be needed again until the following April. There I was out of work. Some Christmas present!
During the following three years, I had full-time work for only about four or five months, beginning the first of April. The remainder of the summer and early fall I was employed on an hourly basis, the same as Joe and Louis, at about ten or fifteen cents per hour. However, when so employed, I did only the work of the same type that they did.
My regular job remained essentially the same as already described. However, one summer, George and I found enough extra time to paint the factory and store and to whitewash the fish shed. We used regular white paint for the trim, but George made me paint the rest of the surfaces of the buildings by boiling red oxide and cod liver oil together in a huge iron pot over an open fire on the beach. It was durable enough and never did any peeling, but it had the consistency of water and it splashed all over us when we brushed it on. Also, it had an abominable odor.
Most of the painting could be done from ladders, but the windowless portion of the factory building, which was flush with the edge of the wharf, presented a problem. George handled this situation by pushing the ends of two planks out of the upper windows. Then, after bracing their inboard ends securely against the ceiling of the loft, he attached two blocks and tackles to the outer ends, and to both ends of a ladder, on which a wide board was laid. Thus suspended, we were able to sit on the board and lower ourselves away as we painted.
All went well with this improvised "bosun's chair" until
In the summer of 1923, George went to Boston, seemingly for a week's vacation. However, he told me privately, before leaving, that he was going after a job driving a truck and that he wouldn't be coming back to work at the Firm. Hurrah. There was no question in my mind but that I would be taking over his job and I was confident that I could handle it, perhaps not as well, but well enough to get by. Therefore, I spent the following week in a state of eager anticipation. I even took the motor boat to Yarmouth and brought back a load of supplies, which did a lot toward bolstering my ego. Thus it was with mixed feelings that I greeted George's return on the succeeding Monday morning. He said that he could have had the job in Boston, but that he had found that the traffic on Atlantic Avenue was too much for him to take. Of course I was glad to see him, but I was deeply disappointed too.
It was becoming increasingly evident that there was no future for me at the Firm and very poor prospects elsewhere in the community. In 1922, my combined income from part-time work at the Firm and from a variety of odd jobs around the neighborhood, during the period from September 11 to December 25 amounted only to sixty-six dollars, and my expectations for 1923 were no greater. Therefore, in October, I too went to Boston, and beyond, but, unlike George, I never came back. Yet I never will forget the rough hazing of the fishermen and their fascinating yarns to which I listened avidly while working behind the counter on a stormy day, with the wind moaning eerily through a drain-hole in the floor below the barometer.
In retrospect, I am amazed at the way my life has differed from that youthful dream. I didn't marry the boss's daughter, and I never became rich, that is-In terms of money, securities and negotiable instruments. Yet a loving family, good friends and neighbors and good health constitute far greater wealth, and I am thankful that I have acquired the wisdom to recognize this fact.