June 6, 2014

A Window on the Past

Fond Memories of Deering Ice Cream

By Craig Skelton, member

Deering Ice Cream was a well-known name around these parts not so long ago.  In addition to the ice cream sold in local grocery stores, the company operated many ice cream shops/restaurants.  Folks also remember Deering for their juicy, mouthwatering burgers which I am told was the result of grinding more than the usual amount of fat into the meat.  The restaurant I frequented was located on Broadway in Mill Creek where the current Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution is located.

deering_ice_cream.jpgMany a morning I stopped in there to meet my mom and her co-worker Bobby Potvin who were headed home after their night shift at Mercy Hospital.  My mom and dad were doing double duty taking care of my son Brandon while I worked.  Meeting for breakfast was a favorite pastime for mom, and Deering Ice Cream was a great place to do it. 

Brandon sat in a high chair on the aisle and, although the conversation at our table must have been extremely interesting for sure, from his vantage point the shoe tapping in the next booth was more of an attraction.  Bob Grady sat in the next booth just about every morning and he wore a pair of shoes that were shined to perfection.  From that, our friend became known as “Shiny Shoes” and it wasn’t long before I found myself prompting Brandon to get ready so we could go see… you guessed it, Shiny Shoes at Deering Ice Cream. 

In the evening, the attraction for stopping in was based on whose car you saw parked in the lot.  If I didn’t recognize any of the cars, I would drive by unless I had plans to meet someone that hadn't yet arrived.  Some of the regulars I would run into from my neighborhood were Brian Fox or Jim Melaugh.  We would often meet up with Pat and Chris Millington or some of the other regulars. 

I recall one of the regular waitresses had a gag where if you asked for half a cup of coffee on a refill, she would pull a mug from her apron that had been broken in half and set it on the table in front of you.  Neither Brian nor I could remember her name though.

A couple months back, you might have read a story about the trampoline business that was located next door. Beth Darling shared on Facebook that she used to come to Deering on Saturdays after jumping on the trampolines.  At the time she was pregnant and her husband was out to sea, so her father would bring her there for strawberry pie and chocolate ice cream.

Ruthie Perham remembers going there after Friday night basketball games.  She was not alone, as several other folks who posted remember it as being the meeting place before dances or after sporting events.  Steven Roberts reflected that the place employed many a student from SPHS and he would have been found to stop by every day after school for the famous vanilla coke.  Steve also says he hasn’t been able to find a sweet relish as good as theirs ever since.

Allen Holmes posted that his dad was foreman on the construction of the building and after the restaurant opened; his dad would give him a 50 cent piece which bought him a coke and a hamburger.  The closest thing to that today would be something off the dollar menu at McDonalds and the burger is probably half as big as the one Allen enjoyed!

I really don’t know what brought on the end of an era for Deering Ice Cream.  All I know is that I can’t think of a place like it today.

 June 13, 2014

A Window on the Past

Cotton Towing

By Craig Skelton, member

When you think of a tow truck, like me, you’re probably thinking of one of those trucks with a bunch of stuff hanging off the back, including big rubber mats and chains swinging all over the place.

Not far from the Community Center is, or I should say, was Cotton Towing; however you might not have even known they were there.  Cotton Towing grew into a specialty business over the years and before the current owner Rick Cotton retired, the business had gone from general towing and plowing to one specialized in recovery of big trucks.  I mean, really BIG, as in those big scary trucks that leave us in a cyclone of swirling wind when they pass.  Those are the type of trucks that when they crash on the turnpike, they usually shut down traffic in both directions until someone like Cotton Towing arrives with equipment powerful enough to lift, drag or pull to clear the mess away.

The owners of a farm next to my aunt and uncle in Cape Elizabeth had one of the largest farming tractors in the area, or so I was told.  The owner called it the “monstrosity” and that’s the name that came to mind when I saw Rick Cotton’s tow truck.

So, let’s get the heavy lifting out of the way.  By the numbers, Rick tells me his 1990 Kenworth model 450 weighed 32,000 pounds (about as much as 10 cars), had tandem axles and produced 300 HP (horse power). The truck was “all” hydraulic and featured a 106-inch axle lift capable of lifting 50,000 pounds and had an 18 foot boom capable of lifting 40,000 pounds.  I can sum it all up for you by saying this “monstrosity” was not your average tow truck.     

Rick Cotton tells me his father Dick started Cotton Towing back in 1946 when the family was branching out from their family dairy business after a fire destroyed the barn.  A portion of the original barn still remains and has served for storage and maintenance of the trucks over the past 50 plus years.

 Back in the 1950s, most of what local towing companies used was either homemade wreckers or something converted from a military surplus vehicle.  Rick says his dad would buy a truck and build the wrecker section himself and then install his own winches and PTO (power take off).  Fast forward to today and most wrecker bodies are built by companies like Holmes Truck Bodies on Rumery Road and those premade bodies are mounted for you on your truck while you watch TV and have a cup of coffee in the waiting room.

For those of you that have heard of Waterman Drive, it was named for a Public Works Director from many years ago.  Colonel Waterman, as he was known, was by all accounts a colorful character.  Rick describes that he always had a cigar, was a fairly big guy and was often seen wearing a soft hat and a long coat.  He had a “do it and get it done now” attitude in the way he directed his employees.  It was during the reign of Col. Waterman that Dick Cotton was awarded the plowing contract for the city and the towing company grew to an operation of 12 trucks. 

Cotton Towing at that time had a 10 wheel “Diamond T” truck with a “V” plow on it.  Rick recalls that it was perhaps his father’s favorite truck.  By contrast, there was no specification sheet so I can’t tell the lifting or pulling capabilities of the Diamond T compared to the Kenworth, however it was the trial and error and ingenuity of folks like Dick that resulted in home-built trucks capable of towing and recovering the large vehicles of that time.

And it wasn’t all about towing.  The blizzard of 1952 was so bad that none of the other plow trucks could get down any of the roads in South Portland.  Col. Waterman called upon Dick Cotton and his Diamond T to drive down the middle of the roads with the “V” plow and behind him, smaller plow trucks followed to push back the snow further.

It was during this storm that Rick recalls he and his brother were loaded into the truck because they had been cooped up at home during the storm and, being rambunctious boys, their mother badly needed a break.  His dad had plowed down Evans Street and all the way across Westbrook Street to where it meets the airport runway when he suddenly stopped the truck and called home on the radio telling their mother to come get the boys, they were driving him crazy!

South Portland of the past was a diverse community of villages and many active fishing families lived in the Willard neighborhood.  Fisherman’s Point next to Willard Beach is a reminder to a time long ago when you were much more likely to find fishing boats aground on Willard Beach instead of beach towels and sun bathers.  I love this 1960s photo from the Phillip Salway collection; it shows the Cotton’s tow truck towing Nelson Day’s boat at Willard Beach. It is a classic snapshot of life not all too long ago and certainly something you wouldn’t see today. They would launch boats by towing them down to the low tide mark and then wait for the tide to come in.


Summer in Maine Auction ~ bidding now open at museum

The Summer in Maine Auction, the auction featuring all the best that Maine has to offer, has opened at the South Portland Historical Society’s museum at Bug Light Park. We hope you’ll come down and check out the great auction items that have been donated. The Summer in Maine Auction has become a signature fundraiser for the South Portland Historical Society; all items up for bid have been donated by the service providers, allowing auction proceeds to go directly to benefit the historical society and its museum at Bug Light Park.

Whether you’re enjoying ocean breezes on a windjammer sail, a day at the ball park, or dining out in one of Maine’s terrific restaurants – that’s what summer in Maine is all about.  Living in Vacationland means that we have terrific opportunities for fun things to do all around us. Anyone spending time here in Maine in the summertime will be able to find great places to stay, excellent restaurants, cruises all along Maine’s coast, museums, outdoor activities and more. You could bid on tickets for a roundtrip for two on the Amtrak Downeaster, a Portland Land-and-Sea Tour, a whitewater rafting trip from Three Rivers, a Portland Fire Engine tour, a cruise for two on the schooners Wendameen or Bagheera, a lighthouse or nature cruise with Monhegan Boat Line, a ride on the Downeast Duck, a ride on the railroad at Boothbay Railway Village or Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, or tickets to see Maine Wildlife Park or York’s Animal Kingdom. You could bid on a membership to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Maine Historical Society, or the Portland Museum of Art. How about the Sea Dogs Sky Box rental donated by Portland Tugboat, a boat rental from Port Harbor Marine, or a relaxing massage at Ocean House Massage?  A sampling of other donors include the Victoria Mansion, the Tate House, Maine State Music Theatre, the Theater at Monmouth, Joe’s Boathouse, Bridgeway Restaurant, Olive Garden, Terra Cotta Pasta, South Portland House of Pizza, Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, and Hilton Garden Inn (Portland Downtown Waterfront or Portland Airport). There are auction items in all price ranges up for bid. 


You could bid on a unique summertime activity, like a ride for four people on the Portland Pilot boat. The winner of this auction item will be able to travel out on the Pilot boat and watch as the Pilot boat matches the speed of the large ship, pulls alongside and the Portland pilot either ascends or descends a ladder from the ship to the Pilot boat. It’s a rare opportunity to see the workings of our harbor and how large ships come into and out of our port.

Now that the donors have generously given these great vacation items, the fundraiser is now in the hands of auction goers. Bidding will close and the auction will end on the 4th of July after the Society’s own Benjamin Franklin reads the Declaration of Independence at noon from the front porch of the museum.

Come place your bids at the museum at Bug Light Park! To reach the museum, take Broadway east to the ocean, turn left on Breakwater Drive, then turn right onto Madison Street that leads directly into the park. FMI, visit the South Portland Historical Society page on Facebook or call us with questions at 767-7299. Bids may also be emailed to us either on Facebook or at sphistoricalsociety@maine.rr.com.  Our thanks to the community for your continuing support of our historical society! 

June 13, 2014

A Window on the Past

Benjamin Franklin, Antique Cars


Summer in Maine Auction at Barbecue on July 4th

 By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

Please join the South Portland Historical Society on the 4th of July for some fun activities as we celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence! The museum at Bug Light Park will open at 10am and a barbecue fundraiser will take place on the museum grounds from 11am to 3pm. South Portlanders have come to enjoy the annual appearance of Benjamin Franklin at the museum. The honorable Mr. Franklin will arrive on the front porch of the museum at noon to read the monumental document that declared our independence from Great Britain in 1776. Throughout the event, last bids will be taken in the Summer in Maine Auction that has been taking place at the Society’s museum; all bidding will close and the auction will end at 1:30pm. Old-fashioned games for children will happen at 1:30pm – three legged races, sack races and other games to enjoy outside in the fresh air.

This will be the Society’s 7th annual July 4th celebration. To ensure that you see the entire reading of the Declaration of Independence, we recommend that you arrive early to secure parking ~ and feel free to bring a picnic blanket or lawn chair to stake out a comfortable place to enjoy the reading. Proceeds from the barbecue fundraiser help to support the museum with its free admission as well as the preservation work of the historical society. Our thanks to Society member John Kierstead for his performance as Benjamin Franklin; we have enjoyed his fiery reading of the Declaration each year ~ it truly brings this document to life.

The Society is lining up some antique cars to have on display during the 4th of July celebration this year, as well. If you have an antique car that you would be willing to display between 11am and 3pm, please contact me at the Society to register your vehicle: by phone at 767-7299, by email at sphistoricalsociety@maine.rr.com, or message the South Portland Historical Society on Facebook.

We hope to see you on the 4th of July!