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Morticians, paper routes, and race cars
MINOT — Sixty eight-year-old Buster (George) Downing moved to Minot at the age of 13 and has lived here most of his life. He has taken pleasure in many full years, racing cars, the shrine and his portable sanitation business.
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 September 15, 1942. We lived in Poland till I was 13, then we moved to Minot. My folks bought the farmhouse from my grandparents when dad got out of the military.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: There were six of us total. I had a sister, Barbara who passed away in1973. I was the oldest, then there is Butch, Bruce, Mike and Rick. They all live in the area. Rick is the farthest and he lives in Hartford.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My mom worked and was one of the first RFD carriers in Auburn. It was right after the war when they couldn’t find men to work. She also worked at the Withington Sled Factory in West Minot. She stayed home after that and was a homemaker and worked with my dad — they had a spring water business.
It was a family farm and she worked at that too.
He was a teamster and truck driver and retired and drove school bus for a few years.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: We had a busy neighborhood, so that was the gathering place. We had a place to play ball. There was a big barn to play in, hills to ski on and a pond to skate.
There was enough of an age difference between us kids that we might all be playing together or off separately in smaller groups or with neighborhood kids.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I just wanted to be bigger. I was little and just wanted to be big. I don’t remember having any real dream.
When I was a bit older I wanted to be a mortician; I don’t know why. I did work a little bit at Plummer and Merrill before I went to the military and decided that wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the hours. Back then, it was a small neighborhood thing and morticians would even transport patients to the hospital doing ambulance work before Allied came about. Even after that we got called a few times.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to the Poland School through sixth grade; Minot for seventh and eighth; Walton for ninth; and I graduated from Edward Little in 1960.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: Yah, I guess! I probably still shouldn’t admit to some of them though.
My mother always had ducks and geese so there were ample supplies of eggs; they were used on occasion.
When we were teenagers we used to raise the dickens on the Fourth of July. Anything that wasn’t hooked down was hauled into the square in West Minot. On the fifth, if anyone was missing anything they would have to go there to find it.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: I had a paper route and from the time I was 11, I worked from time to time helping with the spring water business.
Actually I drove trucks and delivered water in McFalls and Tripp Lake at the age of 12 and I plowed driveways at 13; we didn’t have a lot, so if you wanted any extra, you had to earn it.
My freshman year I worked for Harriman, the architect. That was a good job as I got to drive Mr. Harriman around.
Q: You were in the service?
A: I was enlisted and went to the Maine Air National Guard in Portland. I spent six years there. We did mostly stuff in the states. I was going to go to Germany but they canceled that just before we were to leave. Our training exercises were in communications and we had actual jobs at another military installation. I was a cable splicer.
When I came home from the military I worked for UPS for 7 years.
Q: When and how did you meet your spouse?
A: I met Susan when I was fooling around with stock cars at Oxford. Her maiden name was Smith and she grew up in Norway.
Peter Whitmore and I owned a car together and she worked for him at the Concord Group.
We used to have a little garage behind where the old Minot Post Office was and we would work on the cars there. It was always a place people would stop in from time to time and she and a girlfriend would come to visit.
I asked her out and our first date was at the Waterford Fair. We dated about nine months and got married in July, but the kids didn’t come along for another two or three years.
When we first got married we rented a place in South Paris and then a place went up for sale in Minot on route 11-121, so we bought that. We lived there around four years and moved up here on Woodman Hill Road.
We had two children and a wonderful life together. She passed away last year. We were married for 42 years.
Q: How long did you race stock cars?
A: I think I raced around three years with Peter. It was the #61 car and it was sponsored by Marcotte Chevy and Auto Electronics of Auburn.
I got away from it about the time the kids were born then I went back for a year or so in the mid 80’s, with Ronnie Moon. They had two cars, he drove the #9 and I drove the #19.
I had a few accidents, but nothing ever serious.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I started GA Dowing in March 1971. It is a portable sanitation business.
We rent porta-potties all over; also hand sanitizers and wash stands.
In the last few years, we have gotten into hand sanitizers for agricultural use.
We’ll celebrate our 40 [th] anniversary next year.
Q: Any hobbies?
A: Not too many now, but I did enjoy collecting race car memorabilia.
I also got some horses in the late 90’s. They were a lot of fun to have around. It was a pair of Belgians and I only have one now and he is just like his owner; fat and lazy!
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: Yes, I’ve traveled a good part of the United States and eastern Canada between military and the shrine. We also traveled a few of the islands.
With the shrine we did a cruise through Mexico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
I have a camper and enjoyed traveling with that and hope to do more in the future.
Usually we took the camper to Myrtle Beach and did that for four of five years. We would stay there at least a few weeks and hit the Amish country on the way home.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: Probably the Amish Country and Lancaster County. We got to meet many of the people and learn about their customs and habits; they are unique in themselves.
It was also big horse country and the animals were beautiful.
Q: Involved with any organizations?
A: I am involved with the Maine Vintage Race Car Association and Maine Motor Transport Association.
I am a 32 degree mason. I also went through the Scottish Rite and am a shriner and past potentate.
Q: Did you enjoy the Shrine?
A: Yes, very much. I was potentate in 1991 and that was a very enlightening and great experience; the job (in a nutshell) is being the chairman of the board at Kora Temple, but there are also so many other aspects, such as the social and fraternal aspects. It was really a great time.
I was also the president of the New England Shiners and that involved all the temples in the northeast and eastern Canada. We hosted the convention in Portland.
Q: What was your slogan?
A: My slogan was Celebrating a Century of Fun in ’91 and we got to spend a lot of time with some wonder people. Woody Hodgkins selected me as Outer Guard and it took 10 years to become potentate. It is quite an honor to be selected.
Q: Did you get to visit the hospitals?
A: We got to visit the hospital in Springfield when they did the re-dedication in 1991. It was special to be involved in that.
There was another visit, and we met this little boy and I still get pretty soft when I think about him. He was jumping and dancing on his bed and trying to tell us something. He was from Santo Domingo (I think) and his mother had come with him. He couldn’t talk English. If I remember right, he was born with no legs and had just been fitted with two new legs. That little five-year-old boy was so happy to have on his first pair of jeans. You talk about a humbling experience. He was happy, to just be having on a pair of jeans. I really don’t think he was as enthused about the legs as he was to just be able to wear jeans.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: I am reading The Biography of Smokey Yunick, called Best Damn Garage in Town. It’s about a famed racecar builder that always lived on the edge. He was a daredevil in the military and in today’s world he was an engineer; self taught.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: My grandchildren. Need I say more?
My son Brad has one son and my daughter Beth has one son and one daughter. Their ages are 8, 6 and 4.
Both of my children work here with me a GA Downing.
Q: What is the one thing you would happily do over again?
A: Probably any of it. I would truly do it all over again. I really can’t think of anything I really wouldn’t want to do over again.
But if I had to pick one, it would be when the kids were little. I think about that now and then when I see my little grandchildren running around playing.
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: Gosh, there were so many; Susan, racing cars, being a kid. It would be tough to come up with just one answer. They were all great memories.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I think they already know too much!
But, I guess it would be that I enjoy life and my family. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: I would probably have to throw a big, huge party and invite everyone I know to come.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: I wouldn’t want to make choices. There are so many people I would love to see again. It may sound cold that I can’t name one person, but there are just too many and I’d feel I put one in front of another. That’s just too tough to answer.