Of Trucks and Boats
If you look at the chart, you’ll see that Matinicus Island is served by the Maine State Ferry Service. Don’t make too many plans around that. We get an average of 30 state vehicle ferry trips per year; that’s generally one a month during the winter, up to four per month during the summer. The ferry makes the two-hour trip from the Rockland terminal on a very irregular schedule determined entirely by the tide calendar, and making no sense whatsoever to those unfamiliar with such realities, including those innocents who assume that if the boat left at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday last month it would do the same this time. Now, why would anybody think that? The vessel cannot ever, by the way, remain on the island overnight, as our wharf is “high and dry” when the tide is out.
This May, working with two ferries scheduled two days apart, the store owners and I, as recycling coordinator, had rented a box truck to bring out stock for the island store (ie. beer and Oreos) and a pallet of flour and sugar in 50 pound bags for my summer bakery, and to haul recycling back to the mainland. No Matinicus businessperson can just casually call up a wholesaler and have supplies delivered; everything must be loaded and unloaded numerous times, hand over hand.No island homeowner can simply take his trash to the curb; everything must be sorted, stored, handled multiple times, and most of it trucked to the mainland.
There’s a lot of sweat equity in that beer, that bread, and that trash.
Our recycling program is now in its sixth year and so successful that I’ve been reserving truck spaces on the ferry this summer nearly as often as they’ll let me. The F/V North Haven, the smallest boat in their fleet, is normally the one to serve Matinicus (large vessels like those which serve Vinalhaven quite literally will not fit into our harbor). Center line spots for trucks are prize reservations, frequently taken up the day the reservations open, which is 90 days prior to the date of the trip. Only three trucks will generally fit aboard the vessel. Any builder who needs a truckload of lumber, anybody who wishes to bring anything in tow (like a boat trailer,) anybody who wants firewood, gravel, coal, or other bulk commodities,anybody with a U-Haul, the propane dealer, and I with the recycling program have to compete with each other for a very few truck spots. No “standing” reservations are allowed.My calendar is filled with notes three months ahead of ferry dates, to call the ferry service and book for a recycling truck. Of course, only one specific employee at the Rockland terminal is authorized to take Matinicus reservations, so if you call on a day when she’s not working, even if it is 90 days ahead, you can’t make the reservation.
Ah, yes, the simple life.
The TDS Telecom service truck sat dead in our dooryard (my husband is the phone man). It won’t run, and has not responded to our resuscitative efforts here; a mainland mechanic is required. An hour before the ferry was due we got out the John Deere tractor and towed the telephone company truck to the harbor area, ready for the ferry.
Allow me to slip into the present tense; you can imagine the goings-on. The ferry docks at Matinicus as a small crowd assembles to watch; historically, they watch for screw-ups and minor disasters, the stuff of island folklore. Two rental trucks (U-Haul and Budget) and a handful of other vehicles make the sometimes nerve-wracking trip over the ramp. Unlike the long, wide, gradual transfer bridges in Rockland and at the larger islands, ours is short, narrow, steep, hinged and oddly configured. There are also frequently obstacles on the wharf such as piles of lobster traps, dead trucks waiting to leave, and other stuff making the drive off the ferry a tight squeeze... and that’s nothing compared to the bottleneck when it is “oil boat day” at the same time…but that’s another story.
We pull the telephone company truck to the wharf with the tractor. One of the U-Haul trucks returns to the wharf; they have unloaded it quickly and it is going back to Rockland on this boat (the other will take much longer to unload and is going back two days later.) The U-Haul driver agrees to pull the TDS truck aboard, so we rig the tow rope and somebody hops in to man the brakes. All goes smoothly this time as the two connected vehicles ascend and descend the “hump” in the ramp onto the deck of the ferry. Sometimes, that common maneuver is a bit of a challenge.
On the inside edge of the wharf, bolted vertically at eye level to a utility pole, one finds a gray plastic Stanley toolbox. Opening the toolbox, a household-style telephone is revealed; this is our “pay phone,” sort of, only it isn’t really a pay phone…calls to Matinicus, Rockland, and a couple of other places are free. As the ferry pulls away from the wharf, the TDS Telecom technician with the dead truck calls the wrecker service in Rockland to have them meet the ferry in two hours.
Later in the day the store folks unload a freezer and a great many cartons of stock. After supper, we unload roughly a ton of flour and sugar into my kitchen, which now looks like a warehouse. The next day five of us load 3800 pounds of corrugated cardboard, beach clean-up junk, scrap metal such as dead lawn mowers, rusty bicycles and flattened ductwork, and 39 banana boxes full of junk mail back into the truck. All of this will go to Rockland, as will a couple of fluorescent bulbs, mercury float switches and lead batteries. All of it will be unloaded by hand, piece by piece, at the transfer station recycling facility.
It’s good to see all that junk leaving the island aboard the ferry. It’s great to have a store and a bakery. The telephone company truck will get repaired and returned on a ferry next month. None of this happens by itself, though, and nothing about this process, absolutely nothing, is simple.
Thanks are due the City of Rockland for our inter-local recycling agreement, and Herrick’s Garage, and Shorty’s Towing, and to all the people who loaded heavy recycling into the truck. Thanks are due the Burr family for the tractor shed, and TDS Telecom for the phone on the wharf, and the guy who drove the U-Haul for being willing to tow. Thanks are due Tom and Annie for stopping to pick up my flour at Rockland Food Service. Doing business here is rarely a solo effort.
Eva Murray, Matinicus Island's Garbage Czar, can be found at the Rockland "Dump" every few weeks this summer, and she knows better than to call it the Rockland Dump.