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Rudolph, sling shots and elevator cages
NORWAY – 72-year-old Dick Cushman grew up in South Paris and currently lives in Norway. He had an interesting career with WMTW, working on top of Mount Washington.
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 at CMG, as it was called then, and it was on April 18, 1938. It was on the Paul Revere Day – my mother said Dicky Lee is coming as she galloped to the hospital.
I was brought up on Highland Avenue in South Paris until I was 10. It was upstairs from my grandparents. Then my folks bought a house on Barrows Street, near Market Square.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: One! My sister Carolyn and she just retired from teaching from Fox.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My mother was a school teacher here. She used to teach at the Lincoln Street and then moved to the village at the Brick School.
My dad was a mail carrier. He actually had two jobs. He was an RFD carrier in the morning and in the afternoon, depending on where the fairs were, he worked as a pari mutuel supervisor. He supervised the betting and payoffs and also calculated the odds. Wherever the fairs were, that’s where he was. If the fair was way up north, he would take his vacation and go.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: It was great. My whole life has been great. I had wonderful parents and I was a hellion as a youngster. Just living off Market Square, I had all the small stores around and I used to be mischievous.
I was a tinkerer and I would rather spend time in the basement tearing something apart to see how it would work. I had a very inventive spirit.
I would drive my parents crazy with all the things I invented.
The song Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer had just become an instant hit and I had a stuffed fawn, so I drilled a hole in his nose and put a light on it off my bike. I put it on the roof and there would be a steady stream of traffic.
My dad also ran a bowling alley before the war. After the war it closed down and he had taken some of the things and put them in the attic. He had some one-armed bandit type things and he had a punch-card device. You would pay a nickel and press the button and a card would come out that looked like tic tac toe. There was a pin attached on a chain and you had to poke one of the spots to see if you were a winner. I dismantled the machine and made a cabinet for my father’s tools. I put the mechanism on it so he had to pay a nickel to get his tools. He was delighted. He reveled at the things I did.
Bach then we had milk delivered to the house. You know how it goes: Oh darn, I forgot the cream. So I took an orange crate and stood that up. Hinged the cover, put some insulation on it and it had a slot to put numbers in, so mom could tell him how many she wanted. The empty bottles went in the bottom.
I had Nephritis as a child and was flat in bed for a couple months; it seemed like years. After, I was able to get out of bed, but couldn’t go to school and I had to play outside to get some sun. A cop came by and didn’t believe me. That was fun.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to be a lot of things. A doctor, a minister, but everyone said I had to be an engineer and I literally went to college not knowing what an engineer did.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: When we lived upstairs from my grandparents, my grandfather was the South Paris fire chief. He came home one day and I was sitting on the steps. He had two dry cells and set them down and said ‘Dirk-a-lee, do not to touch them’ and laughed. Of course I did. One had a cotton-covered pigtail and I touched it to the other terminal. It got red hot and burst into flames. It burned itself off and he never said a word. He knew; we understood each other.
When we moved to Market Square, I figured out how to get on top of the South Paris Savings, it’s the Smilin’ Moose now. There was a night cop and we called him Clancy. He would go around and check doors to be sure they were locked and there was a big recruiting sign at the intersection. I’d be up on the roof with my sling shot and BOOINGG, it would hit that sign and he would jump a foot, but had no idea where I was.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went through the Brick School, and then went to Pine Street at the junior high and on my second year of high school, they build the new high school next door.
I went to the University of Maine and studied electrical engineering, but I did not graduate. I was so bored with it that I couldn’t apply myself. I found out why later. It was because I am a very hands on guy. I wanted to hook up the wires, not learn how fast the electricity flowed.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: Before I had my license, I worked for a man named Bernard Leach. He had a shop on Church Street and he did radio and TV repair, household and industrial wiring.
I owed him $27.40 for some TV tubes, so I got a job with him to work my debt off.
He was doing the electrical on the building and I was his little monkey up on the ceiling.
In 1963 I took a job as a part time camera man at WMTW8.
Q: Did you go in the service?
A: No, I couldn’t because of my kidney.
Q: When and how did you meet your spouse?
A: I had been married before. My first wife and I had five children and divorced in 1990.
I adore my children and we are so very close.
I met my current wife, Lynn while working on Mt. Washington at the television station.
I had met her a few times and she worked at the Observatory and they would come and eat sometimes at the TV building.
We were great friends for a long time before we married.
Lynn liked to hike and had decided to hike up the mountain one day. The weather was fierce and I was driving the Snow Cat and noticed her struggling. I drove up to her and said: Candy little girl?, then asked her if she wanted a ride up the mountain. Her response was; well, ya!
Q: What is one of your favorite early memories of Lynn?
A: I worked, also, part time as a consultant for some radio stations and she loved to go to the mountain tops with me. I took her up to the 2000-foot tower in Baldwin and proposed to her in the elevator cage. It was just about big enough for two people to stand in and she made me get down on my knees! I did it. I wasn’t going to take her down if she said no.
Q: What do you do on the mountain?
A: It varied because I was the chief engineer and general manager. So sometimes I would cover a shift. The shift would be Wednesday to Wednesday. In the summer I could go up daily.
That was unique. Usually a chief engineer is responsible for the technical part of the operation, but with Channel 8, we also had to generate the power. We had generators, oil furnaces, and there was even a tank farm for oil.
Not only did you have the TV responsibilities, but you also had the environment to worry about. We had to have oil transported and stored, so there were regulations.
We also had commanding height, so we had transmitters, known as repeaters and they would help the FBI, Secret Service, Border Patrol and state police to be able to communicate with their officers in the field with two way radios.
We had contracts with two different airlines and the Trans-Atlantic flights could communicate with us long before they could communicate with the airports, so we could give them updates if needed.
And we also maintained all that equipment back then.
We did a yearly food order and we stocked a pantry and had five freezers. We also had accounts at different stores so whoever was coming up could pick up things like milk.
The mountain has the world’s worst weather, but the actual temperature does not get as cold as other places. The arctic could be 70 below, but we had the combination of the high winds and low temps. I was there at the record 46.2 below. We had winds at 154 mph winds. It was right off the chart, literally.
On a clear day you can see Whiteface Mountain in New York, much farther than that you couldn’t see, but only because of the arc of the earth.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: Through the course of my career, I got the opportunity to do a lot of traveling. I would go to different states for buying equipment and training and would rent a car and go to adjacent states. I’ve seen over half of the states and privy to see a lot of the country.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: Hawaii, it is just so different, If it was 68 degrees, people would say it was 2 below. It is called paradise and it’s just beautiful all the time.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: I have a number of hobbies; I love computers, cooking, carpentry and music.
I play the accordion, piano and I also bought a banjo a few years ago, but I struggle with that.
I am retired now and I have no idea how I ever had time to work.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: The bible, I endeavor to read it every day.
Q: Involved with any organizations?
A: Yes, I am secretary/treasurer of the Weary Club and I’m involved at the South Paris Baptist Church.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: My Christianity. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was the day that I accepted Jesus into my life and became a born-again Christian.
Q: Do you have a hidden talent or a talent you wished you had?
A: I am interested in everything and anything.
Q: What is the one thing you would happily do over again?
A: I have been very privileged and have immensely enjoyed every day of my life. I don’t think I could pick out one thing or day.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I have an insatiable curiosity. I like people and am a people person. I love the lord and talking about spiritual things with people.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: I wouldn’t do anything special. I just want to be ready for the lord to take me no matter the circumstance.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: My dad. I would tell him that I have missed him.
My mom too, she would always say: I don’t care what you do Dickey, just don’t ever grow old.