Sometimes seniority has its benefits. That must have been what these construction workers were thinking as they watched a helmeted colleague climb off a makeshift barge and into the frigid waters of the Penobscot River in Bangor back in 1923. The wooden ladder faintly visible beside him would have helped this diver from the H.P. Cummings construction company reach the bottom some twenty-two feet below, while the weights strapped around his midsection and his heavy boots would have restricted his movements once he got there.His
tattered cloth suit, with its knee-patch just breaking the water's surface, would have provided little insulation against the cold, though his bare hands would have negated any such comforts anyway. His fragile lifeline to the surface, of course, was the airhose attached at the rear of his helmet and coiled carefully by the burly man at center.
By the time this remarkable photograph was snapped by a cameraman standing on the Brewer side of the river, supervisor Percy Johnstone, who was likely the well-dressed gent at far left, and more than fifty of his workers had been on the river for months repairing damage the forty-eight-year-old dam had sustained during a spring freshet. Nearly three hundred feet of the wooden structure, which had originally been built to provide the Queen City with drinking water, had been wiped out and needed to be replaced. While repairs were under way most of the Penobscot's water was routed through the long, narrow gatehouse, at upper right, the forebay, just left of center, and the turbines that had been installed a quarter-century earlier within the waterworks building, at far left. The pilings, at left, and the cribwork in the background, at right, formed a framework some 288 feet long and 20 feet wide. This was then filled with concrete and boulders to anchor the dam to the river bottom.
Remarkably, Johnstone was able to complete most of the repairs by late November, before the ice had set in, at a total cost of $150,000. The quality of his workmanship is still evident today; while the wooden section of the dam gradually deteriorated after the city ceased pulling its water from the then-heavily polluted river in 1957, the concrete portion still stands high and dry on the Brewer side of the river. Before too long, low-income Mainers will be able to enjoy the view of this section of the Penobscot, as the long-vacant waterworks building is at last being refurbished as efficiency apartments.