Birds of a Feather

From Gazette editions of February, 1961:

To help save the wild birds, imperiled by the prolonged spell of freezing weather, the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club has in the last week been responsible for the scattering of 1,300 pounds of seed. The club had set up two supply stations for food, one at the S.B.S. Grain Store in Vineyard Haven and one at Herman Vincent’s house in Edgartown. Persons who are not members of the club but who knew of locations where birds were in danger of starvation were invited to avail themselves of this supply. Edwin G. Tyra, the president of the club, said yesterday that most of the people who came for seed expressed the desire to distribute it in outlying districts where the birds, being far away from householders who regularly put out feed, are in the gravest danger of starvation.

Mr. Tyra said that within the past day or so several calls have come in from people who noticed that the deer are also suffering from a shortage of food. Yesterday a member of the club, Howard Andrews, took a couple of bales of hay to put in the Red Hill section of Tisbury for the deer. B. Harrison Cohan, the owner of Great Plains Farm, has donated a quantity of hay to the club to be used for this purpose. Mr. Tyra, Warren Norton and Joe Julian set out immediately to take some of it to up-Island areas where deer are known to roam.

Em Elliott has been caretaker of the Edgartown fire station since it was built, and with his duties has also been keeping an eye on the apparatus there. He therefore has a warm place in his heart for the department’s first piece of motorized equipment, the “old Mack,” and was feeling a little low this week. The “old Mack” left his custody; it had been sold to Richard Brown.

The machines of the department are important in Em’s life. On a cold night, for instance, he goes out and turns the engines over to warm them up, so they’ll be ready if needed. And they’re always ready and dependable because they are taken care of by a man who is ready and dependable.

Since Em has been so long with the department and station, he can recall the time the Mack first came. It was a demonstration model, circa 1927 and came here in September 1928 to be the nucleus of the department. “There was criticism,” he says, “about the chain drive — it was bound to come off. But, you know, in all kinds of hard work, in brush breaking and in snow it never did.”

A committee of three, the late Raymond Walker, Alfred Hall and Henry B. Hough, was named to consider purchase of the town’s first fire truck, and they had picked the Mack.

Men and machines are both of atoms made, if different in construction and arrangement, and Em was implying that the departure of a faithful truck should not go unnoticed. “After all those years, taking care of it,” he said, “I felt kind of bad seeing it go.”

Robert S. Douglas has just returned to Vineyard Haven after three months aboard the Bounty, built for the filming of the story of the famous mutiny. He joined the ship at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where she was built, and was a member of the crew for three months, during which the Bounty sailed south in the Atlantic, passed through the Panama Canal and made Tahiti. There had been trouble at the shipyard where there were accusations of interference by the director. Mr. Douglas said, though, that all hands were treated well. Whether the film will be completed is a matter of conjecture. Scuttlebutt declared that five scripts were destroyed before the ship made Tahiti and that shooting was done from a script written the night before each filming.

Seldom is a chapter of the past so irrevocably closed as that, rich in tradition, character, and the admirable skills of earlier times, which comes to an end with the death of Orin Norton. It is not enough to say that he was the last of the blacksmiths, one of he grandest lines that runs down from the beginning of man’s experiments with shaping metal, to the all-consuming age of the machine, and of automation, or even that he learned his trade from another of the old lineage, Elmer Chadwick, whose blacksmith shop on the Beach Road at Vineyard Haven will never be forgotten by those who knew it. Through Mr. Norton, the Island still had a hold on the valiant years when man, rather than the machine, gave strength, meaning and productivity to the world. That hold, of course, is now lost.

But Mr. Norton was more than a symbol or an institution; he was a personality and character. It was true that he could blacksmith anything, and in his long career probably did, but he possessed wisdom, humor, and many sound qualities of mind in addition to his skills. It is saddening to contemplate the change that must take place with the final closing of the doors of his shop near the Edgartown waterfront.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner