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The Launching of the “James E. Coburn”

by John Wedin
from material submitted by Evelyn Ryder Prior

Transcribed by Pauline Bickford-Duane 6/27/2017

The advent of World War I brought about a tremendous demand for American shipping tonnage. Many large ships were constructed on the Penobscot and one of the largest was built at the South Orrington shipyard.

The location of the shipyard in South Orrington was ideal – direct access to the river, good oak and pine available, and most important in any enterprise – excellent skilled labor available in the immediate area. The yard was leased from Captain C.W. Wentworth of South Orrington.

In 1918 the Boston and Penobscot Shipbuilding Company was incorporated with offices in Boston, Mass. Mr. Don Sargent of South Brewer was made General Manager and in that year it was decided to begin construction on a four-masted general cargo schooner.

In July, 1918, work started on the four-masted “James E. Coburn” in South Orrington. About 90 men were working on the “Coburn” with about 40 men supplying oak and pine planking from the nearby sawmill supervised by Roy Clark.

Ruel Dodge was the Master Builder, Daniel DeCourcey of Bucksport, scientific blacksmith; George Getchell of Brewer, liner; Edward Snowman of Bucksport, master caulker; Herbert Hoxie, South Orrington, boss painter; Henry Gardner of Castine, rigger; S. L. Treat of Bar Harbor did the lettering; Amos Simpson of Searsport did the joiner work and spars were made by Sidney Hathorn of Bangor.

The “Coburn’s” frame was of native oak, and her planking and ceilings were made of hard pine. The spars were of Oregon pine and the fore and aft houses were finished in natural sycamore, oak, and cypress.

She had four staterooms, a chart room, pantry, engine room, and the captain’s room. The “Coburn” had two anchors weighing 4100 and 3600 pounds supported by 180 fathoms of 1 ⅞” chain. She was 228’ over all, with a 39’6” beam, a 175’ keel, and 19’ depth of hold. The “Coburn” weighed 987 gross tons and had a capacity of 1700 tons.

She was painted white with a red stripe and blue waterways. The lettering on the stearn and bow were all done in gold leaf. The “Coburn” flew the flag of Rogers and Webb of Boston and was commanded by Captain James F. Chase of Machias who stayed at the yard from January through July, 1919 during construction.

It was quite a day on July 15, 1919 when the “Coburn” was launched. Many people from Bucksport, Bangor, Brewer, and Orrington were on hand. As the “Coburn” started to slide down the ways she stuck half way, to the surprise of the crowd. Many seafarers present predicted a terrible end for the ship after such a bad omen at launching. Several days later she was launched successfully and was towed to bangor for final fitting and chartering.

Days later the “Coburn,” with full sails set, eased her way down the Penobscot River and out to sea.

On April 1, 1929 she cleared Baltimore with a cargo of coal bound for Port de France, Martinique, and Port au Prince, Haiti. Twelve days later she passed Cape Henry and on April 17, the “Coburn” was battling for her life in a terrible storm. Later during the day she floundered beneath the waves.

Nine of the crew were saved after being adrift for over a week without food or water. One crewman was lost. So was the end of the “James E. Coburn.”

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HAS FEW EQUALS IN MAINE: Little 17-Year-Old Blanche Hinds Has Done Great Things as a Telegrapher

Article from the Boston Sunday Globe

Dated Jan. 18, 1903

HAS FEW EQUALS IN MAINE
Little 17-Year-Old Blanche Hinds Has Done Great Things as a Telegrapher

Augusta, Me, Jan. 17

Members of the legislature and others habituating the state house have already noted, among other innovations, a new telegraph office. It is a neat little affair, bright and shining, adorned with palms and flowers and equipped with convenient desks and devices for the convenience of the patrons. And over it all presides a little brown-eyed girl, seemingly too young for such a place.

But the people who sent little Blanche Hinds to the state house knew what they were doing. She is one of the most competent telegraphers in Maine.

Blanche Hinds learned telegraphy with her letters, and when she was four years old could take by sound any word that she knew how to spell. She has hardly been out of the sound of the clicks since, and she is now 17 years old.

She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Josiah D. Hinds of South Orrington over on the Penobscot. Mr. Hinds is a veteran of the Civil War, and has for many years been station agent at that place. They are very proud of their daughter.

When she was 3 years old she began to develop a wonderfully keen perception and a faculty for investigating and reasoning out things. Before she was four she had learned every letter of the alphabet from a little ?? and she learned to read while other children were still struggling with their letters. She was a wonder of the little village.

The old ladies shook their heads ?? and prophesied that the child would ever grow up – they said that her brain was so big that her head would not hold it, and that something would surely happen to her.

Mr. Hinds combined the duties of telegraph operator with station agent, and like many operators, contracted the habit of drumming with knife or fork when waiting for dinner. One day, when Blanche was 4 1/2 years old, she surprised her father one day saying:

“Make a ‘papa.'”

Mr. Hinds made the telegraph letter by placing his knife between the tines of the fork making “a” in all sorts of ways. Then the other letters followed, and in a very short time the child knew the entire Morse alphabet. It was her delight and took up most of her play time.

The first appearance of Blanche in public was when she was not quite 5 years old. It was at a church entertainment in the village and Blanche was down for an “exhibition.” The little tot was placed upon a stage of the large hall and her father announced that if everyone would write a message that he would telegraph it to her from the other end of the hall using only a knife and fork, literally a wireless operation.

The village squire volunteered and wrote upon a slip of paper, “Who is the President of the United States?” Quite a message for a 5 year old to read even in plain letters. The hall was quiet as the grave while Mr. Hinds tinked the message, the little girl listening intently, the large audience separating her from her father.

With the last tink came the quick answer: “Who is the President of the United States?”

“Very well, very well indeed,” said the squire. “Now, can you tell me who is the President of the United States?”

“Benjamin Harrison, sir,” came the reply which surprised Mr. Hinds as much as it did the others.

Shortly after, Mr. Hinds, greatly to the delight of his daughter, put up a private line between the station and the house and about all of his spare time was taken up in talking over the wire with his little daughter. When she was 6 years old she could read as fast as Mr. Hinds could send, and copy almost as fast.

Then she began to spend all her leisure at the station listening to the instrument. The line from Bangor to Bucksport was not a very busy one and the operator not expert, so that Blanche soon was talking with the others on the line and asking them if they couldn’t send faster.

About six years ago the late Thomas B. Reed spoke at Bucksport and the best operator in the Bangor office went down and sent about 6000 words of press over the line. Blanche copied the entire message, missing a single word.

When she was 14 years old, she substituted in the Western Union office in Bangor, taking her place with the other operators, many of whom had been in the business long before she was born. Later she entered the employ of the Postal company as assistant manager and chief operator and handled practically all the messages for President Roosevelt and his party during their stay in Bangor last summer.

Later she substituted as manager of the important office at Waterville and of the office at Augusta and when it was decided to open the office in the state house she was selected as the best operator of any of the several hundred operators available.

Besides being an operator Miss Hinds is an accomplished pianist and can also send and receive French as well as English.

The best of all is, the little woman is not in the least affected by the compliments and praise she gets. She does not consider herself at all out of the ordinary.

She is spending her spare time just now in learning the press “code” and hopes to qualify as a code operator.18 Jan 1903 Boston Globe photocopy of orginal article on Blanche Hinds, telepgraph operator, page 4 (1)

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“Earl on the River” – S. Orrington shipwright models 19th century vessels

by Harry Gratwick

Originally Posted: March 1st, 2005 in The Working Waterfront.

This article has been republished with the permission of The Island Institute

He calls himself “Earl on the River” and when you hear his story, you’ll know why. Earl Morrill is a 58-year-old resident of South Orrington who specializes in building scale models of 19th-century Maine sailing vessels. I first met him in the summer of 2003 while I was doing research for an article on the history of the Penobscot River. I soon discovered, however, that in addition to being a superb builder of historic model ships, Morrill was a veritable storehouse of information about the Penobscot. But that’s another story.

The second of six children, Earl Morrill grew up in South Orrington, eight miles south of Bangor. He was born and raised in a house that was built by his great-great grandfather in 1867. From an early age, he remembers hanging around an old trapper named Joe Hurd who, according to Earl, “knew everyone and had lots of stories to tell about the days of sailing ships on the river.” Morrill credits Hurd with teaching him how to row and “get up and down the river no matter what the tide, by using the eddies.” He also remembers sailing on the river when he was 14 in a flat-bottomed rowboat. “She had a plank keel under her, one mast, a square yardarm, a tough sheet and a tiller on the stern.”

“I guess it was Old Joe,” says Morrill, “who was the beginning of my maritime studies and my desires to build models of Maine sailing vessels.”

Earl’s great-great-grandfather, Joseph H. Atwood, was another influence. Atwood was captain of a three-masted schooner, the CHARLES S. HAZZARD, built in Essex, Massachusetts. In the 1850s and 1860s, the HAZZARD hauled lumber from Bangor down the Penobscot to Boston and New York three times a year. On return voyages she would bring back a load of produce. Winters she was “iced into the cove” behind the house Atwood built on Mill Creek and where Morrill still lives. As recently as 1955, Earl remembers there were still a few hulks lying on the shore. “Even today,” he says, “there is an old two-master washing out of the cove by Ryders Point, just north of here. She has yielded two half-pennies and an 1836 dime. The ship was named the PLANTER and was used for hauling split wood up and down the river to feed the lime kilns in Rockport.”

“All this history, and my great-great gramp being part of it, just got me started researching,” Earl remembers. “The more I found out, the more I wanted to build an historic model from the keel up.” Earl was in his 20s when he began a model of Atwood’s ship, the HAZZARD. “I had done the research,” he recalls. “However, I soon realized that I was way over my head trying to build a model boat.” He stopped for three months and gave himself a crash course in shipbuilding, which included studying everything he could find on the subject in the Bangor library. When Earl finally finished the HAZZARD, he admits, “She was a little crude, but eventually I sold her to the owner of The Harris Co. in Portland.” The owner, Austin Harris, has since retired, but when I spoke with him recently he assured me the CHARLES S. HAZZARD is prominently displayed in his parlor in Yarmouth.

Morrill’s second model-building effort was the four-masted schooner JAMES E. COBURN. He remembers finding a picture of her while she was being built on Mill Creek in 1919. “Historic model building took a long time in those days,” he recalls. Mostly this was because of the time it took for research and the fact that everything came by regular mail. Even now, before he begins a project, Morrill does months of research on a ship. His model of the COBURN can be seen today in the Orrington Historical Society. He continued to improve his skills when he next built a model of the S.S. ROOSEVELT, the ship Admiral Robert E. Peary took to the North Pole in 1908. Earl’s great-great uncle, Maynard Wardwell, was Peary’s chief engineer on that expedition. The ROOSEVELT was built in 1905 on Verona Island just south of Bucksport. Appropriately, Earl’s model of the ship has been on display in the Buck Library in Bucksport for the last 10 years.

“By the third ship, you are hooked,” he says. “You know you can do a better job on the next vessel and you drive yourself to a higher level of accuracy.” Earl now waits for orders before starting to work on a ship.

Today he posts pictures of his models on his website, www.geocities.com/mainecoastersriggers. [This article was published in 2005, and this link is no longer valid.] He builds his ships to scale 1/4″=1′, plank on frame. “I can scratch-build a schooner from the keel up in about 7-9 months,” he says. Morrill works only on Maine sailing ships and insists they must be documentable and original (the first model to be built). A number of years ago, the owner of a local newspaper saw the S.S. ROOSEVELT on display in Bucksport and asked Morrill to build him a vessel. After some negotiating, he agreed to build a historic model of the brig TELOS, out of Bangor, for $9,000. In this case, his client even agreed to do the research.

Morrill is particularly proud of the model he made of the SPITFIRE, a fast clipper ship built in 1853. At one point, she held the record of 106 days for the fastest trip from New York to San Francisco. The SPITFIRE is currently on display in the Searsport Marine Museum. His research included examining 19th century maps of the Penobscot River area in an effort to locate a slipway large enough to accommodate a 200-foot vessel. His challenge was that in the 19th century, there were 40 towns on the Penobscot with slipways for constructing ships and he had to find a specific site. After careful study he found both the slipway and house of the builder, Isaac Dunham, in present-day Winterport. Earl finished the SPITFIRE in 2000 and it was sold at the Maritime Museum’s annual fund-raiser for $20,000.

Historic model shipbuilding has always been much more than just a hobby for Morrill, and yet he has had to earn a living. After graduating from Brewer High School (class of ’64) he joined the Navy and served for six years as a damage control man on a nuclear submarine off Vietnam. Following his discharge he lived in Portland, first as an engineer on a coastal tanker, the W.M. MCLOON. Later he worked at The Harris Co. making fishing gear. For the last 15 years Earl’s “day job” has been at U.S. Blades, a knife and saw shop in nearby Hampden. And yet wherever he is, Morrill admits he “always has a model ship building project going on.”

Morrill works up to 30 hours evenings and weekends on his “second” job, rarely taking a vacation. To date, he estimates, he has built almost 20 historic sailing ships from scratch. Included are eight or nine schooners, one barkentine, two brigs, three clippers, two frigates and a packet ship. In addition, he figures he has restored “close to” another 30 ships. Morrill plans to retire from his job at U.S. Blades in the not-too-distant future and yet, unlike many retirees, he has more than enough to keep himself busy for the rest of his life. Over the years he has developed a database of more than 4,000 vessels, including 2,800 built on the Penobscot River from 1780 to 1940. “I am self-taught on the computer,” he says. “I had to learn to be able to do quicker research on maritime history.” Morrill has always had a number of students to whom he sends lessons, compiled from his old model-building records, once a week. “We are all set up with the same graphic software so I can send drawings, pictures and ship plans,” he says. Most of his students live in the United States, though he says a student from Australia built a “really nice Maine schooner a couple of years ago — some guys get it and some give it up. You gotta love it or leave it alone.”

To view the original article, click here.

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