The Year the Bay Froze Over
by Timothy Foye - 2006
I heard this story from Bill Hunter of Winterport Maine and had to pass it on to you all. I met Bill a few weeks ago when I found out that his T was for sale - a 1927 Fordor made in Canada. I took my oldest daughter with me on a two-day adventure to go get it in Brooksville Maine. It’s also a story for another day. The story your about to read is about a tall tale that Bill told me involving a touring car in that same area in 1918, and the proof he gave me to back it up!
Here’s the first part of the story copied from period news clippings:
The first person credited with driving an automobile across Penobscot Bay was Captain Albert Gray of Harborside (Maine), who was accompanied by his brother Jasper Gray and their cousin J. Murray Veague. “We left with an anxious crowd on the shore watching us” he later told a newspaper reporter, “and I should hate to tell you the kind of fool my father said I was”. Washington’s birthday in 1918 was the date of the historic passage. “We were a little cautious when we first started.” Gray recounted to the newsman, “and cut a hole in the ice now and then to get the thickness. But after finding ten to fourteen inches of good ice, we opened her up and let her go for Turtle Head Islesboro, and then to the Belfast bay. Just before crossing the channel cut a week ago by the big icebreaker Favorite. We did a little more scouting and found the ice six inches thick. Then it was ‘plain sailing and no dust’ to Belfast. There were no traffic cops and no speed limit, and it was one joy ride in.” Needless to say the good citizens of Belfast were astonished when the trio drove their Ford Pathfinder into the harbor, pulled right up to the steamboat wharf, parked, and went ashore. Ice monitoring on the bay soon after became relatively commonplace, with supplies for the islands and remote communities being transported by Ford-driven sleighs like the one used by Captain Gray once.
Another article in the Bangor Daily news:
Belfast, Feb 24 – Automobiling across the bay from Brooksville and the Castine has come to be a regular thing now. The pathfinder Ford which made history Friday by being the first car to cross the bay on the ice, made four trips Saturday to Brooksville, towing a horse-sled loaded with over a ton of grain and provisions and making the 12 miles across in about 25 minutes. The car too the ice at Goose Falls, or Harborside, and same across to Turtle Head, then up the Belfast harbor. Merton Hooper and Orville Vague also came across in a Ford and an Overland brought five passengers from Castine on a joy ride. Other cars came over Sunday and Penobscott Bay turned into something of a boulevard.
The second part of the story is little different:
Also taken from the Bangor Daily News 1918 – Ford Car Makes a Submarine Dive. Famous Brooksville Ice Explorer Breaks Through But is Recovered. March 1. Albert Gray’s famous Ford pathfinder, car of Brooksville, which was the first in the history of the world to cross Penobscott bay on the ice, came to grief yesterday noon and last night reposed on the bottom of the bay. But it will soon be ambling right along again. Mr. Gray and a friend had made the run down the bay to Sunset, Deer Isle and were in sight of home on the return trip when they came to a crack about five inches wide in the ice just off the Beaver ledges on the eastern shore of Islesboro. Mr. Gray decided that the Ford could jump it all right, It did. But it happened that the ‘lighting wasn’t as calculated and the car crushed down through the ice which was only about one inch thick. Fortunately the car settled slowly and made a regular Lusitanian dive being eight or ten minutes going down. This gave the crew time to get out and make fast a long tow rope. The Ford finally sank in 20 feet or so of water. It was left there for the night and today a large and able working crew, mostly volunteers and some others worked nearly all day cutting the ice towards the shore and finally succeeded in raising the sunken Ford by means of the rope, and it was towed home in triumph. Mr. Gray expects to have it going again soon. It isn’t exactly a new car and is just the thing for exploring for if it should happen to drop out of sight in deep water sometime it wouldn’t be a very serious loss.
Bill has it on good authority that the car was put back to running condition and was used to deliver the mail for the next two years. We can also see from the news clipping above that as recent as 1980 it was still on the road! Hearing local stories like this made our car-buying trip more interesting. Thank you Bill for taking the time to find and send me these news clippings and photos. Hopefully our paths will cross again soon.
We took these photos on our trip. They show (roughly) the starting and end points of the ice trip made in 1918.
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