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Chevys, knickers and tires down Elm Street
MECHANIC FALLS – 77-year-old Richard “Dick” Wing grew up in the Oxford Hills area and now resides in Mechanic Falls. He loves his cars and treasures his family and friends.
He recently took time to tell us about his life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born on February 17, 1934 and I was born on Alpine Street in South Paris.
I was brought up right there ... that is where my grandparents lived. Then my parents bought a house on the same street and I lived there till I was seven. My parents divorced then and my brother and I went to live with my grandparents, who had moved from Alpine Street to Oxford on the Coldwater Brook Road.
When I was in my mid teens, my mom bought a house in Mechanic Falls.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I had one brother and he was seven years older than me. His name was Keith and he passed away about seven years ago.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: They were both shoe shop workers and they worked at what was called the Little Shoe Shop, where the Norway Savings Bank is now, across from the library.
Dad was an assembler and mom was a stitcher.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: I had a great time growing up. We raised all kinds of vegetables and stuff. Grammy and I and Smithy, my grandfather made butter and cottage cheese and we sold that up to Snowcraft, where Grammy worked during the war making snowshoes.
Those were hard times. Kids today don’t have a clue what poor is.
The only ones that could buy things like cigarettes at the store had to be a regular customer. They were kept below and if a stranger walked in, the store said they didn’t have any.
My dad had an A sticker on his windshield and he could get five gallons of gas a week. Because of that my parents walked to work; the car stayed home.
You couldn’t buy a pair of shoes, you had to get coupons. One time dad gave me his coupon for a pair of shoes and he put a piece of cardboard and put them in his. He couldn’t even take a pair of shoes from work because they were all government shoes going to the army or the air force.
Mom would take us down every fall to the big city of Lewiston and go shopping for clothes. We would get these boots with the long socks and she would make us get knickers; I hated those things! Once in a while, we'd get a real pair of pants.
We would go sliding at the park and we played cowboys and Indians.
When we played baseball it was with a stick and a tennis ball.
At nine, I had a Model T Ford. It was a 1913 pickup truck and it was cut off so I just had the front part. I rode around the field with that and I had a blast. It had wooden spokes front and rear, with rims. Only the back had tires on it, so the front tire ran on the rims.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A Well, I wanted to be Roy Rogers; that was a big thing.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went through South Paris and went to Mildred Fox and then I went to the Oxford School in Welchville. I graduated from the eighth grade.
I had Imogene Staples at the Oxford School and I'll tell you what, you better behave in that school. She could grab you out of that chair and shake you before you even knew she got there. She was amazing. She taught fifth through eighth grade and there were 42 kids in that one room.
It was pretty nice having the other classes in there with you. While you were sitting there doing your lesson, you could see what was going on in the next grade. It worked great for me ‘cause I learned a piece of what I needed to learn, but got a hint of what I would learn the next year.
I didn’t go to high school; I had to go to work. The war was just getting over.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: Of course we got into mischief.
Just general stuff, but we had a great time. My best buddy and I had a bunch of old tires and we sent ‘em down the hill on Elm Street. We got in trouble for that ‘cause we got caught by the night watchman. He didn’t see us do it, but he knew who did it.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: When I was around 14, I went to work at Mac's Restaurant; I washed dishes. They had the best food; homemade bread and pies.
I also worked at the box shop by the underpass and made furniture. I made 85 cents an hour.
When I was probably 16, my brother had gone to work for Pratt and Whitney and I went to Connecticut to live with him. I worked at Marlin Rockwell and made ball bearings.
I came back here around the time I was 18 and went to work for Speed's Garage in Mechanic Falls as a mechanic. I was always doing cars and trucks.
I joined the Mechanic Falls Fire Department at the age of 18 as a volunteer.
Q: Go into the service?
A: I certainly did! It was from 1956 to 1958. I went to basic in New Jersey at Fort Dix and then I was transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky. I stayed state side, because they had just signed the peace treaty with Korea.
I worked in a shop teaching mechanics in Direct Automotive Support. In this ordinance outfit we had tanks, Jeeps and trucks. Weapons were next door in another building.
In the summer we would go to Breckenridge and help out the National Guard; teaching classes in starters, ignitions and generators.
It was a good experience.
Q: When and how did you meet your spouse?
A: I was married once before for nine years. We got divorced after we had two girls; Debbie and Rhonda.
In the meantime, my wife now, Jeanette lived Kentucky. My mother’s house had two apartments and we lived in one and Jeanette’s mother lived in the other. She came up from Kentucky to visit, so I met her then. She went back to Kentucky and got married and had two daughters, Jessie and Cathy.
Jeanette got divorced and she and he daughters moved up here with her mom. By then I was divorced and we went out on a date and the next thing I knew, we were married. That was 43 years ago and she is a keeper. I don’t know if she thinks I am one or not!
All my daughters have done marvelous. Cathy handles insurance from home. Jessie works at Semi Conductor in Portland. Deb works St Mary's in a doctor’s office and Rhonda works at Clover Manor.
Q: Where did you work after you were married?
A: When we got married I was working for the Job Corp at Poland Spring as a fireman.
When I got done there, I went to Callahan brothers and did mechanical work for them.
I drove school bus one year before going to Callahan.
I started driving trailer trucks probably around the early 70’s. And I did that ‘til 2002.
In the mid 70’s I bought a garage on Clifford Street and it's a hobby shop. I rented it for a few years.
Q: Any good road stories?
A: Well yes! There were a few of us driving trailer trucks in a row in North Tonawanda. The three truckers in front of me were Texans. We were all talking back and forth and they had their Texas accents. I was in the back and one guy in a car comes up to me and propositions me! I told the Texas boys about it and one of ‘em slowed down like he was going to take the man up on his offer. The three Texans ended up boxing him in. I remember hearing on the CB in that accent: suppose this boy’ll find his exit? They forced him right of the road then the next thing I hear is: I didn’t know there was an exit back there!
Q: What do you do now?
A: I play in my hobby garage. If I’m not here or at the fire station, I’m home helping Mumma out. I enjoy restoring old trucks. My next truck is gonna be a ‘68 Chevy. I take it right down to the frame and redo it.
Q: Do you still volunteer for fire department?
A: Yah, but I’m thinking it might be time to retire. I’m 77-years-old, so what am I doing driving in the big red thing down the road, but it’s pretty tough getting help during the day. I do like to help out. I can add lighting or do some wiring if needed.
I’ve been in the fire department since I was a teen. When the whistle blew we went to the fire.
When I joined we had no two-way radios. We had a ‘31 ladder truck, a ‘29 pumper and a ‘47 Buffalo fire truck.
Even at the age of six, I’d hang around the fire station. My grandfather was a fireman in South Paris and if I’m not mistaken, he was the chief. My dad was a fireman in South Paris as well and I think he was a lieutenant or captain when he retired. Not sure beyond that, so I know I am at least a third-generation firefighter.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: Being in trucking, I got to travel a lot. I’ve been though the eastern seaboard and to the midwest; Michigan was maybe the farthest.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: If it's not an old car or an old truck, I don't get too excited.
Q: What was your favorite vehicle?
A: I have always owned a Chevy. Jerry Coleman, my buddy who passed away always loved Fords. I ran out of gas one time and he told me if I’d had a Ford I wouldn't have run out of gas. We always had fun arguing about which vehicle was the best, but it was a Chevy!
Q: Did anyone influence you to the point of changing your direction in life?
A: Walter Perry, he lived down at the end of Sunnyside. He helped design some kind of a pump for the heart. He was quite an inventor and he taught me about everything in life. If I didn't have a tool he'd make one for me. He had a squeaky voice and his famous word was Wellll. If something didn’t work, he’d say: wellllll, bring it over and I’ll take a look at it.
Q: Are you in any organizations?
A: Yes. I am a member of Tyrian Lodge and I used to be involved with the Eastern Star and Rainbow Girls.
I was on the Mechanic Falls town council for 20 years.
Q: What is the one thing you would happily do over again?
A: I’d want to do it all over again. Well, maybe I’d just start off with my second wife!
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: They are all special memories, but it would probably have to be meeting my wife. It was funny ‘cause I remember when she was younger and visiting her mother, her dad would always joke to me to stay away from her because she was too young. He’d tell me he was going to shoot me if I even looked her way.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I'm just me. Nothing special, but I like to do things for others. I’m honest, a hard worker and enjoy life. It was always great when I got paid in apple pies.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: With my wife and we'd just snuggle.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: Outside of my mom and dad. I'd really like to see my Grammy Smith. She meant so much to me. I’d tell her I miss her and thank her for everything she did for me.