How To Move Old Iron From One Island To Another

Elliot inspects the Alamo

1. Elliot inspects the Alamo.

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R. R.  m, Box 830, North Haven, Maine 04853.

North Haven and Vinalhaven are sister islands twelve miles offshore in Maine's Penobscot Bay and are separated by a deep water passage only a quarter of a mile wide. If you want to take a vehicle from one island to the other, however, it means a ferry ride from your island to the mainland, then another ferry trip from the mainland out to the other island-and then you have to do the whole thing in reverse to get back to where you started from. Take into account the uncertainties of ferry schedules, reservations, weather, and we figured such a round trip could involve a week if nothing went right.

This is the problem that my friend Elliott Brown and I faced this fall when we planned to make a trip over to Vinalhaven to pick up a load of iron that we had acquired over a period of a year or two. We were beginning to worry about our treasures spending another Maine winter buried in snow and mud.

The cargo to be moved was as follows: a 1928 Farmall tractor on steel, a 3 HP Alamo engine, a Model A Ford station wagon frame, cowl, engine and front end, a hand-cranked flywheel drill press, and a pile of miscellaneous rusty Ford parts-including a Model T Snowmobile ski-to be dragged out of the woods.

Elliott and I talked about the trip for months, and time went by until the first, second and third frost had come and gone. We realized that if we did not go immediately, we would have to wait until next summer (Maine dirt roads 'out in the williwags' are generally impassable in spring-mud-time).

We had a talk with Foy Brown, who runs Brown's Boatyard on the North Haven side of the passage, and asked him if he thought we could transport a car trailer over to Vinalhaven on a small barge that he uses to haul boat moorings. We knew what the answer would be. Foy never refuses a request even when he knows it is foolish or even downright stupid. One way or another, he gets the job done.

'More junk,' he said. Elliott backed his trailer down onto a gravel beach at low tide, and Foy nosed the barge in to meet us, using an outboard powered skiff as a tug. We backed the trailer up a pair of heavy oak planks and onto the barge, then unhitched the trailer and Elliott drove his pickup up the beach above the high tide mark (the tide rises 10 feet in Penobscot Bay). So far so good, and we headed across the channel. We had arranged for a truck to meet us on the other side; everything went fine, we backed the truck up the planks, hooked up the trailer and away we went up the concrete ramp, feeling quite clever to be on Vinalhaven Island with a 4-wheel drive pickup towing an empty flatbed trailer. Foy told us to be back no later than four p.m. as the tide would start to ebb, and he did not want to load us on a falling tide.

The Alamo was stuck in the middle of a collapsed barn and had an abandoned mallard duck nest under the cylinder. We cleared a path through the rubble to the engine, slid a wide plank under it, and skidded it out to the edge of the barn's foundation and then down another plank onto the trailer. The engine was stuck but complete and still showed traces of blue paint with gold pinstriping. The gas tank was rusted through yet all original plumbing was intact, including the fuel pump.

After retrieving the Model A parts by rolling them end over end through heavy brush, we drove our rig up a rocky dirt road to the Farmall tractor. It had sat in deep pine woods for many years, but the last owner had put logs under the wheels to keep them off the ground. The engine was stuck but the steering, transmission, clutch and brakes freed up with a little work and 'weasel juice', so it was an easy matter to tow the old tractor backwards out to the road. (The only mishap occurred when I was steering the tractor and one rear wheel hit a rock ledge hidden in the brush. The tractor jumped so violently that the rusty sheet metal seat broke loose, nearly dumping me backwards under the wheels.) She went up onto the trailer with no complaint, and we secured everything and headed back to meet Foy Brown. It was about 4:15 and starting to get dark.

The tide had begun to fall when we reached the ramp. Foy was concerned that the barge would be hard aground on the ramp once the heavy trailer was loaded-and sure enough, when we tried to pull the barge with two boats at full throttle, she wouldn't go. It looked like we would have to unload the trailer and wait until the next high tide at about 4:00 a.m. Foy moved quickly. He dragged the oak planks off the barge and shoved them under the end of the barge. Then, with two of us under each plank, we gave a few heaves for all we were worth. With both boats roaring, the barge slowly inched down the ramp and then floated free. The barge's deck was three inches above the water.

We were lucky that there was no wind that afternoon, and the water was calm. We had a slow cruise across the channel to Brown's Boatyard.

The final maneuver of the day proved to be the easiest, thanks to modern machinery. Foy used his huge 'Travel-Lift,' a mobile hoist capable of lifting a large fishing boat, to pick up the trailer with its cargo and then drive along tracks to the parking lot. He gently set the trailer down behind Elliott's waiting pickup, completing a memorable old iron adventure.