On Turning 90: ‘I was a busy boy’

 

NORTH BALDWIN RESIDENT Norman McKinney still gets together frequently with his friends from the former Baldwin school. In fact, they helped him celebrate his 90th birthday on April 13. (Photo courtesy of Norm McKinney)
 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NORTH BALDWIN — Norman McKinney is from the generation that received their early education from the proverbial one-room schoolhouse. The concept of walking a mile to and from school rings true. However, there’s a twist.

“Sometimes, the snow was so deep that one of the eighth graders had to carry me on his shoulders,” said McKinney, 90, as he recalled his life as a first grader.

“I went to a one-room schoolhouse in North Baldwin with all eight grades. Pretty much, school was very seldom called off, no matter what the weather. Each grade was being taught in the room during the day. You heard everything because there was just one room. You learned a lot from the older grades,” McKinney said. “There was a big, circular stove, and the winters were so cold that everybody had to gather right around it.”

“In my eighth grade year, I was made part-time custodian, tending the fire and lugging the drinking water in a pail for a quarter mile from the springs,” he said.

Students in the area attended Potter Academy for their high school education, he said. That was where he met his wife, Pearl, during his sophomore year.

Later in life, McKinney worked as the bus driver for Potter Academy in Sebago and as the head custodian for the Baldwin Consolidated Elementary School.

For this 90th birthday, his school co-workers, who are like a second family to him, got together for birthday cake and some socializing. That happened at a private home on April 13. The following day, April 14, he had another birthday party with more guests at the Baldwin Community Center, which had formerly been the school.

“The school where I worked — I worked there for so many years that we were kind of a family. After I retired, anytime they got together, they invited me and they still do,” he said.

McKinney likes to get out and socialize.

After all, he is not much of a homebody.

McKinney was born April 13, 1928, in the family home.

LONG TIME IN THE LIMELIGHT — Norman McKinney, of North Baldwin, was a bus driver and the head custodian for area schools, plus he ran a summer camp and served as a selectman for 39 years. He turned 90 years old on April 13. (Photo courtesy of Norm McKinney)

Although an agricultural lifestyle meant spending time on the farm, it required travelling. He was very young when he started helping his grandfather, Joses Murch, with the dairy farm, which included selling milk to people in the community. As a young adult, he had a job transporting chickens to the Cohen Brothers farm in Revere, Mass. When he wasn’t busy earning a paycheck, he volunteered. He is a founding member of the North Baldwin Fire Department, which he dedicated decades to. For 39 years he was a local selectman, leaving behind a legacy by bringing the Channel 8 tower to town. That arrangement brought an annual source of revenue for Baldwin, created an ongoing scholarship fund for its young students, and empowered the local fire department with a radio transmitter.

Now-a-days, if he is not spending time away from the homestead, he is outdoors working on the property.

“When I was 88, I bush hogged,” he said. “I cut all the bushes and grass to clear the fields.”

McKinney remembers the winter day in 1944 when the family home burned down just as he and his grandfather used the last bucket of water.

“We had the fire almost out and we ran out of water. That was the year we lost the farmhouse. We almost lost the barn because it was so hot,” he said.

“We had two fires — one when I was four years old. The house totally burned down in 1932. The one when I was four started in a Dutch oven. My father and grandfather weren’t there. They were down cutting ice on the ponds. When they got home, it had burned,” he said.

“There was another fire when I was 18. It was 1944. The second one — the smoke woke us up. It was so thick we had to crawl down the stairs to get out,” McKinney said.

“It had burned the telephone lines, so we couldn’t call out. I had to take the car to go to the telephone office on [Route] 107. Back then, Baldwin didn’t have a fire department, so you had to call the board of selectmen, and they put the fire call to the Standish Fire Department. Because Standish charged the town for the fire, we had to call a selectman,” he said.

“We went downstairs in the cellar. It was the cold milk room. My grandfather and I went downstairs. He had a milk tank. It was full of water from the ice melt. We used the water from that,” he said. However, that make-do water ran out at the same time the fire was almost under control, and a building on the family acreage burned for the second time.

That experience “most definitely” factored into his decision to start the North Baldwin Fire Department along with other residents in the area at the time. He volunteered for different aspects of the fire department over the decades. He is the last remaining charter member of the fire department, which was started in 1948. He was a volunteer firefighter, who served as fire chief from 1952 to 1967, and then took the role of the secretary/treasurer from 1967 to 2012. In 1950, he was appointed by the State of Maine as the Deputy Town Fire Warden, which was a job he did for 55 years.

McKinney was still in elementary school when he took on the job of helping on his grandfather’s dairy farm.

“My father was taken sick when I was 10. He had a nervous breakdown. My father had some chickens he was raising. When I was 10 years old, I ended up taking care of the chickens and handling 100-pound bags of grain. Then I helped my grandfather Joses on the dairy farm. He bottled the milk. He peddled it over on Sebago Lake. He sold it out of his truck,” he said.

It was his sophomore year that he met his future wife, Pearl, at Potter Academy. She passed away in 2009; and, the figurines and bells she collected sit on the shelves in his home. The bells range from metal, ceramic and china — some have dainty flower painted on them.

“Pearl and I got married in 1947. We got married in Hiram at a pastor’s house,” he said. Their first home was “upstairs over the farmhouse.”

“Our daughter Jean was born in 1949, and then Steven in 1951 and a foster child Phillip came to live with us when he was four years old, and stayed with us until he went into the service,” he said.

It was in 1952, that he built the home where he now lives in.

“During ’52 when we had the big blizzard, I had to ski three miles over to Fitch’s store to get formula for Steven,” McKinney said.

This recollection surprised his oldest daughter Jean who was present during the interview and hadn’t heard the story before.

“I had poultry that I raised. I had poultry here in the house. I had rented another house, a chicken barn, down below, and I had to ski back and forth to take care of them,” he said.

“In 1952, it was the biggest snow, four feet of snow. The roads were covered. The snow blowed across the roads, and it was four feet deep,” he said.

“Back then, we didn’t have snowplows. We had a Caterpillar tractor.

We had just that one for the whole town. It was two days before they got over to plow us any time it snowed,” he said.

After the ’52 snowstorm, it took four days before the tractor removed the snow and cleared their road.

Another snowstorm story took place not at home, but while he was on the road.

“In ’47, I started raising poultry for the Cohen brothers in Massachusetts. I raised chickens for about 22 years. Then, they went out of business. They furnished the chickens and I raised them, so much apiece. They wanted the chickens when some were at four pounds and some when they were five and a half and six pounds. It was just for the meat,” McKinney said.

That business had a Jewish market. So, a rabbi blessed the chickens before they got slaughtered, he said.

“During the time I was raising chickens, I drove truck,” picking up chickens in various Maine towns and transporting them to Revere.

“We got to the poultry house at 10 p.m.  It wasn’t plowed out. We were late getting gone so we went to Kittery and stopped for coffee. Christ, the sun was shining this way.

We saw snow on the cars coming down. Some of them stopped in there. We asked if it was snowing, they said, ‘You wait when you get going, you’ll see.’ We went 20 miles on the turnpike. It was snowing so hard I could hardly see to drive,” he said.

“Me and the fellow riding with me had the windows down. We stopped under the overpass and put on chains. There was a line of traffic behind us as far behind us as we could see because we were breaking track for the other vehicles,” he said.

“We spent that night with all the chickens,” he said.

“The next morning we got up and I called Pearl to tell her I wouldn’t be home. We are snowed in. Coming back, there were cars everywhere — in the medium, between the lanes, covered with snow,” he said.  “I left at 10 p.m. Sunday night, and I didn’t get back until 6 p.m. Tuesday. That was in the 1960s.”

In 1973, he was voted in as one of three selectmen for the Town of Baldwin.

“The community got involved in the Channel 8 tower. We had quite a fight to get it,” McKinney said.

Channel 8 had to remove it tower from Mount Washington; and for a while, Five Fields Farm was being considered as a new location for the tower.

The Baldwin selectmen approached Channel 8, offering their town as a good site because of the terrain. It was approved and constructed in 2002.

“We get taxes from it, and we have a scholarship program set up. We got a scholarship out of it. They added the scholarship above the taxes.

We worked out a radio transmitter for the fire department. Prior to that they had the red phone system,” McKinney said.

His grandson Ben McKinney remembers that time.

“There were a lot of people unhappy about Channel 8. He was tired after all that. He was working at the [children’s summer] camp, too. He came home from those meetings tired. I remember him talking about it,” Ben said.

McKinney ran for selectman because, “I was interested in town politics.” He had a seat on the board until 2012.

In the 1960s, he purchased a 24-passenger bus and started working as a school bus driver. Previously, his mother Ada had been a school bus driver.

“I bought the bus. The school district paid us for hauling kids. I drove bus for about 15 years. After 1973, the district started buying its own buses,” he said.

In 1972, he worked simultaneously as the school’s sole custodian. Then, in 1974, he was employed at the Baldwin School (Union 9) as a bus driver and a custodian.

“By the time I got done driving bus I was hauling the grandchildren of some people” who had ridden the bus when they were students,

“The kids were fine. They were well-behaved pretty much up until I retired. I enjoyed all the kids. We had some roads that didn’t get plowed until after the buses ran. I had to get out and put on chains. They had a lot of steep hills,” he said.

Although he could have gone home, kicked up his feet and relaxed after a long work day instead of volunteering for the board of selectmen and the fire department, McKinney said he would have it any other way.

“I was a busy boy,” he said.

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