Cash and Carry
Arnold Peabody knew firsthand that folks in northern Maine sometimes have to wear a few different hats to make ends meet. He supplemented the income from his farm equipment company in Houlton by harvesting a hundred acres of potatoes. In later years he would even make the two hundred-mile commute to Augusta while serving as a Maine senator. So Peabody, shown seated on a John Deere tractor in this dramatic snapshot taken in 1940, was more than happy to oblige when the folks at the Houlton airfield asked him to tow a biplane across the Canadian border.Seeking to avoid war with Germany, Congress had passed the Neutrality Acts in the 1930s, prohibiting the country from trading arms with nations at war. But after the Nazis attacked Poland, Franklin Delano Roosevelt found a way around the spirit of those laws by implementing Cash and Carry revisions in 1939. They allowed American warplanes to be flown to Houlton and then hauled overland to a rudimentary airstrip in Richmond, two miles into Canada. Once in Canada, the planes flew to waiting Allied transport ships in Nova Scotia before departing for the war overseas.
The Curtiss "Helldiver" scout bomber captured here, judging by its camouflage paint scheme, painted rotor stripes, and the circular insignia barely visible on the underside of the wing at far left, was one of several that were flown from the Curtiss-Wright Corporation's factory in Buffalo, New York, to Houlton en route to a spot in the French air force. The hint of a gunsight from one of its two machine guns pokes from above the cockpit, at left, and the exterior fuel tank hanging between the retractable wheels helped the plane fulfill its one thousand-mile range. While Peabody's assistant, just left of center, manages a tether, the bearded fellow at far left seems so out of place that he might well be the pilot. These airmen didn't tarry long in Maine; a customs agent could inspect a plane in just four minutes and Peabody would be headed across the "slash" — the twenty-foot-wide section of cleared earth that even today marks the international border — in little more than ten.
The need for this ingenious diplomatic loophole was rendered null, of course, by the attack on Pearl Harbor. The air base would go on to become a POW camp, and Arnold Peabody would return to using his farm equipment for more pastoral pursuits. Perhaps most ironically, the impressive aircraft shown here would not actually make it across the Atlantic in time to save France, instead rusting in wait on the Caribbean island of Martinique.