What the Bickford Boys Taught the US Navy

You can look this up; it was quite some time ago. Clevie and Theo Bickford, brothers, somewhat innovated the contractual business of snow removal. While most Maine towns still plowed roads as a municipal duty, Clevie and Theo had convinced ours that the time had come to contract for this and leave the job to them. They bought some new heavy equipment, and as it was more than enough to handle our town, they took on the plowing in neighboring towns and were in business.

Clearing the roads in that many towns called for hiring help, as Clevie and Theo couldn't do it all. We lived a couple of miles out of the village, so the appearance of the heavy trucks after a down-east storm gave us something to look forward to around 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning. "Here come Clevie and Theo!" would rally us to the windows, and as we left the yard light on, the two men on a truck would pull up, stomp their boots at our door, and come in for hot apple pie.

It happened in the course of those winters that we had two old baisters of no'theasters that baffled the Bickford Boys. Both were the expected whoppers that follow the January thaw, drifting high and packing down. On the first, the equipment Clevie and Theo had simply gave up, and we had a big breakdown. With an apple pie ready, we waited in vain. School-bus time came, and our - and all - roads were choked to the sky.

Clevie Bickford, meantime, had managed to get to the railroad. He was on the morning train into Boston, where he arrived on Commonwealth Avenue just as the big-equipment sales room was opened. He said to the man, "I'm down from Maine and I want to buy suth'in that'll plow snow." The man said, "By what we got here, I'd guess you got snow in Maine all right."

"Yes, we did," Clevie said, "and what can you show me?"

The man says, "Well, we got all sizes; what do you have in mind?"

"I sh'd think mebbe the biggest you got on the floor."

The man says, "Oh! Then perhaps we can start with this Oshkosh."

The Oshkosh was certainly huge. Built for snow, it had hydraulic equipment, and great wing plows responding to the touch of a button. Clevie gave it maybe a three-second study, as he had to catch a train back to Maine, and he said, "I'll take it if you'll get it on the next freight car."

The man said that could be arranged, and Mr. Smith should be at his desk within just a few minutes. The storm had delayed the commuters.

Clevie said, "Who's Mr. Smith?"

The man said, "Mr. Smith is our credit manager."

Clevie said, "What do we need to see him for?"

The man said, "Well, I'm not in a position to extend credit, so we'll have to wait for him."

Clevie said, "Ain't money no good these days in Boston?"

The man said, "Oh, certainly, but we're talking about $27,000."

So Clevie said, "Just make out a receipt."

He did; Clevie hauled out his wallet and counted $27,325 and 17 cents. That was what that Oshkosh plow cost, FOB Boston on the Boston & Maine afternoon train, via Portland and Brunswick. At 8:13 the next morning it went by our house, with a school bus just behind. Elmer Keith and Wilbur Taylor, first drivers of the Oshkosh, and Maynard Anderson, driver of the school bus, waded in from the road and had apple pie, plus eggs and ham and more pie. The world was in touch with us again. Clevie Bickford was a man who always walked about looking like somebody who wouldn't know what a 50-cent piece was.

The second time we were cut off from all else by a snowstorm was because that same Oshkosh, after many years, gave up and needed a part that had to come from Oshkosh, Wis. Clevie and Theo had mechanics to do the work, but everything waited on rail express. So we left the yard light on, but had no takers for hot apple pie. Three snow-blocked nights went by, and not only did our town stay plugged up, but so did the other towns Clevie and Theo were contracted to clear.

IT was the winter about two, maybe three, years after the United States Naval Air Station was activated at Brunswick, Maine. The Navy had heavy Caterpillar bulldozers to clear the runways. As a gesture of public spirit, and not because the Navy needed the money, the station commander came to the aid of the Bickford Boys. His bulldozers filled in for the crippled Oshkosh.

Our yard light was on, and down the road we saw vehicle headlamps. "Here come Clevie and Theo!" brought the youngsters from bed to the window, but they said it wasn't the Oshkosh. It was, of course, the US Navy, a land-chewing dreadnought that snorted in a different key, and didn't cleave the drifts as smoothly as the Oshkosh did, but just pushed them on ahead until they fell apart and rolled aside.

On, up the hill, the warship came, steady and purposeful, determined and unyielding. The light was on, and the pie was ready. We didn't know, yet, that the Navy was coming. We now knew it was not the Oshkosh, however, and we didn't know if we should expect Elmer and Wilbur, or if this strange monster would stop at all. There was no school bus behind it. Wrong time of day for a school bus, anyway.

The bulldozer stopped, and three doughty, able-bodied seamen came to the door. "We've been told to stop for pie!" said the one on ahead, and I said, "Mornin', Cap'n! Come aboard!"

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