How To Move Old Iron From One Island To Another

By Staff
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1. Elliot inspects the Alamo.
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2. Alamo safely on the trailer, with collapsed barn in background
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3. The Farmall is urged onto the trailer.
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5. Barge is loaded but not yet afloat. North Haven in background.
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4. Foy supervises loading the barge (North Haven in background).
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6. Homeward bound.
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7. The 'Travel-Lift' picks up the trailer. Vinalhaven in background.

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.

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