April 07, 2020

Knox County> People, street light shine in darkened Washington

WASHINGTON For Gordon Grinnell, the worst part was that damned street light. For two weeks the street light was the only light in the Razorville section in this town of 1,200. It seemed like the street light was mocking the residents whose homes were clustered around the south shore of Washington Pond in the dark.

Although most of Knox County escaped the brunt of the ice storm, Washington got hit badly, with most of the town losing power. Two weeks after the storm, isolated pockets like Razorville were still in the dark. Every day, powerless residents get a little more angry.

“Don’t tell me that Central Maine [Power Co.] is doing a good job,” said Grinnell, 65. Melting snow for enough water to operate the toilet and throwing out spoiled food were getting mighty old, Grinnell said. If the power was a stone’s throw away, why wasn’t it restored to his lake-side home, he asked, over the roar of the small generator.

Jenny Grinnell could not even talk about it without crying. “They tell you to stock up for the storm. Now we are throwing it all out, bit by bit. The hardest part is keeping your cool,” she said. They laughed at a story, possibly true, that one Augusta man got so mad at CMP that he took his chain saw to five power poles. They could understand his frustration.

(Augusta police said the event never happened, at least in Augusta.)

The Grinnells were warm thanks to their roaring wood stoves. But the daily calls to CMP brought no information, no hope. “They say they don’t know when we will be back on,” she said.

Friends don’t understand. They call and ask how things are going. But no one asks them to come over for a meal, a hot shower or a night with television. The Grinnells will not ask. “I am too stubborn to ask for a favor,” she said. When she went to the town office Tuesday for the $50 food allowance, she got into an argument with a town official.

“They think everyone on the lake has money,” she said. The retired couple said they scrimped and saved for everything they have and could use the $50, considering all of the lost food. There is no extra money for two weeks in a motel as some have suggested. There are unexpected expenses. “It cost me $8 to do my laundry. They have doubled the price on batteries. They are ignoring this end of town and we pay more taxes than anyone else,” she said.

“We’ve lost power for a day or two out here. But never anything like this,” he said, moving closer to the wood stove. “I bet we get charged the same service charge next month, even though the power was off for two weeks. What do you want to bet?

Christine Wellman, 74, missed water and “Wheel of Fortune.” She and husband Estern, 80, were among the lucky ones. They were celebrating Tuesday after the lights finally came on in their Route 206 home after 14 days. The clocks had been frozen at 1:05 p.m. since the storm hit Tuesday, Jan. 6.

The Wellmans had a wood stove and a good supply of wood, and were not about to move out when the lights went out. For 14 days, they have stayed at home, fed the stove and hauled 5-gallon jugs of water to make the toilets work.

“The worst time is from dark until bedtime. You can’t read. You can’t watch TV. We sit around and talk. There is just not that much to talk about after a while,” he said.

But the tough Mainers did little complaining. Both could remember the days before electricity came to Washington. “We didn’t get it in Washington until after World War II,” he said. In North Union where Christine was raised, the power lines came by in 1943, “my first year of high school. It was pretty nice after reading by kerosene lamps. I never thought we would be back to them again,” she said.

“Losing the water was the worst part. It was like the old days, with hand pumps,” she said. During the power loss, the couple visited friends with power, but always came home at night to their own house.

On the day the power came back to the Wellman house, Down East magazine came in the mail. The cover advertised “Winter fun. Cabin fever relievers.” A little late, the Wellmans agreed. They plan to buy a generator, just in case this craziness happens again.

Everyone was looking for generators a few days before, said Don Grinnell, who works on small engines when not busy as the town’s fire chief. He is also brother of Gordon Grinnell.

“I wish I had 50 [generators], a few days ago. Everyone wanted one. You’re going to see them all for sale in Uncle Henry’s [classified ad magazine] in a few months. I saw a bunch for sale in the Sunday paper,” Grinnell said.

Washington always gets it the worst in Knox County, the fire chief said. When it snows, Washington gets the most. When it gets cold, Washington is the coldest. It appears that Washington is just a little too far inland, a little too high. “Five miles east, it was a different world altogether. They never got a thing,” he said.

Route 17 seemed to act as the dividing line. The south side of the road had relatively little damage and most houses had power. The north side of the highway was devastated and dark.

Once the enormity of the storm was realized, shelters were set up at the fire station and later the school. A surplus Army generator was all the town had in the days after the storm. It was worth its weight in gold, the chief said. “It was mostly older people who came to the shelter. It was damned hard work to get some of them out of their houses. They would only stay for a night, then go home again.”

It isn’t over yet, he said. No one will know about the frozen pipes and damaged furnaces until everything starts running again, the chief said.

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