OTIS — Among the millions of dollars that Maine has requested in emergency aid, $300 may not sound like much. But this gift comes not from an anonymous federal agency but from the hearts of the Massachusetts linemen who put in two weeks of 16-hour days restoring power to Otis and Mariaville after the ice storm.
The 15 workers told their Bangor-Hydro colleagues that they were so overwhelmed by the kindness of the residents that they took up a collection among themselves for the two rural towns. They passed the $300 donation to a local Bangor-Hydro worker, asking that it be split between two families that could use a little help, one from each town.
“When I left there, I was proud to be a linemen,” said Richard Brown of Plymouth, Mass. “My hat goes off to the people in Maine. They’re really a special breed.”
Brown said that he never heard an angry word from a single resident, even though many had been sitting in the cold and dark for 10 days or more. As the crews slowly worked their way up Routes 180 and 181, and around Beech Hill Pond, people emerged from their homes to offer them coffee, doughnuts and homemade cookies.
But the linemen — who ate dinner in their hotel rooms so as not to waste a minute when they could be snatching a few precious hours of sleep — didn’t usually have time to partake. The towns also hosted a public spaghetti and bean supper at the Beech Hill School before the crews headed home.
“The out-of-state crews were really touched by that,” said Tom McDonald, a Bangor-Hydro utility worker from Ellsworth. “They walked in to a standing ovation.” The linemen said the warm response from Mainers was a far cry from the surly treatment they often receive in eastern Massachusetts.
“We’ve had storms [summer hurricanes] down here where people have called the police and threatened our lives because their beer was getting warm,” said Brown. “It was a breath of fresh air to have people really appreciate what we do for a living.”
The Massachusetts linemen got to know each other as well as the locals. The crews came from Plymouth, New Bedford, and Cambridge, Mass. Home again and caught up on sleep, they’re planning a party to share their photos of the ice-covered forests and the snowy lakes in Hancock County. Some may bring their families north on vacation — in the summer.
Since lineman no longer shimmy up telephone poles, Brown said the profession doesn’t inspire the awe that it did when he started 30 years ago. But the trip to Maine, he said, brought back the spirit of camaraderie of the old days.
“I consider it my last gunfight,” said Brown. “It’s a nice way to end my career.”