'Lobster One'

By John Ford Sr. | Dec 07, 2010

In my last column, I described an incident of bad timing wherein my technical skills were lacking after I'd arrested two men for night hunting when I was trying to rush home to get much-needed sleep.

I had failed to get any form of identification from one of the culprits. Instead, I instructed him, for his own personal convenience, to drive his vehicle to the jail. I'd follow along behind him and meet him at the jail for the final processing procedure. That way, he and his buddy wouldn't be stranded without a means of transportation once they'd been booked for the night-hunting charges.

I placed his companion in my vehicle for the long trip to the local crowbar hotel and tailed along behind the co-conspirator as we proceeded to the facility. Suddenly, the front tire on my cruiser went flat, leaving us immobile along the side of the rural highway.

I watched in despair as my prisoner drove off into the darkness, completely unaware of the predicament I was in. To make matters worse, I had no spare tire for the cruiser. There I sat, without a clue who I had been following. We watched him sail away into the darkness.

His companion suddenly wasn't quite as cooperative as he had been. While we sat there with a flat, my rider no longer could remember his buddy's name. Fortunately, Warden Dave Allen was out and about working to the south of my patrol area. He graciously came to my rescue.

Along the way, Dave stopped the driver I'd been following and successfully obtained the necessary information that I had not gotten. Dave was reassured that my prisoner was indeed headed for jail and that he didn't need an escort to get there. “Without a doubt he'll turn himself in,” Dave said, deviously snickering.

Before the night was over, Dave managed to cash in on my total ineptness, making a few snide remarks that I fully deserved and was expecting.

Certainly, had the shoe had been on the other foot, I'm sure I'd have been much more brutal to him than what he was to me. We wardens did not cut one another any slack when we found one another in embarrassing situations.

To this day, I still regard Dave's rescue that early morning as to the second coming of Jesus. Thankfully, he was working close by, especially at that time of night.

Little did I expect that a few weeks later I'd get my chance to return the favor to chide Dave a little bit when he too found himself in a quandary.

Dave and I were alike in many ways — we both managed to get ourselves in a scrape or two or 10.

Dave was an energetic young warden, totally dedicated to the cause of protecting our natural resources. But then again, he should've been. He came from a family of game wardens. They were stationed in various areas of the state and shared a vast amount of experience. They had earned a great deal of respect from the members of the public they served.

The Allen family was highly regarded in Maine warden history. They were well known and respected throughout the entire state, similar to the Pelletier family from Northern Maine.

The family tradition of working in law enforcement had been handed down over the years in these two families. Their legacies would be remembered and talked about for many years to come.

I became acquainted with Dave's dad, Warden Charles Allen, back when I was still in high school. During that time I was day dreaming about one day becoming a game warden myself. Charlie was the warden supervisor in Southern Maine's Division A. He was the boss in the area where I was a mouthy little teenager still trying to decide what to do with my own life.

As I ventured north, embarking upon a newfound career, ironically Charlie was my first boss. Shortly afterward, he was transferred to Augusta to become the chief warden in charge of overseeing the likes of myself and the rest of the game wardens throughout the state.

Charlie was a great supervisor. His experience in the field was second to none, and his willingness to help a young rookie such as myself was exemplary. I couldn't have asked for anything more, especially starting out in a line of law enforcement work where I was pretty much out on my own.

Dave and his brother, Chuck joined the force a few years later. They both quickly became highly respected wardens within their respective areas. The Allen family definitely had created a legacy as Maine's finest wildlife protectors.

But even legends have moments of despair and bad timing.

I recall one time when Dave found himself in a little pickle of his own. His situation made my flat tire, no spare and a prisoner on board look like a walk in the park.

Dave's patrol area covered the Central Maine coastline of Belfast, Northport, Lincolnville and Searsport. His district was to the south of mine but often we worked together on a variety of cases.

One warm day at low tide, Dave decided to strike out with his cruiser across the sandbar at Sears Island in Searsport. He intended to check out the activity on the small island a short distance offshore.

Mind you, this was well before the state had constructed the now famous causeway providing a direct link for vehicular traffic to the scenic island. In those days, it was fairly easy to navigate a vehicle across the sandbar during low tide. It provided quick access to the island a short distance away. But also in those days one had to watch the ebb and flow of the changing tides.

Traveling across the sandbar was a regular habit for many locals. Some were sight seekers; others were naturalists enjoying the beauty of the coastal island. Others sneaked over in pursuit of wild game.

Dave spent an enjoyable afternoon poking around the trails scattered through the woods, seeking out those who might be abusing the public lands and wildlife. Finally, it was time to return to the mainland before it got too late.

If he didn't hit the sandbar to the mainland before the incoming tide arrived, it would be a long wait before the tide turned again, thus preventing him from escaping the island. The tide was coming in much faster than Dave expected as he slowly navigated his way along the narrow sandbar, heading toward the shoreline.

Unfortunately for Dave, he didn't get started quite soon enough.

Along the way, he went off the narrow road and buried his truck in the mucky mud adjacent to the sandbar. Frantically, he attempted to free the state vehicle as the waves lapped closer and closer.

The tide was waiting for no one – and it was coming in fast. Dave immediately sent out a distress call, seeking to have a wrecker sent to his location to free him from the quagmire.

Les Hills, a local wrecker operator from Belfast, quickly arrived with his powerful machine. Surely within a few minutes, the two of them would be back on shore, safe from the rising seawater.

Les was a great friend of the Warden Service. More than once he'd been called to come to our rescue and he never questioned how we managed to get into our predicaments.

Unfortunately, as Les desperately tugged away at the mired warden's cruiser, his newly purchased wrecker also sunk in the soft sand.

Another desperate call was made requesting more machinery to pull them both out of the rapidly rising waters. But before help arrived, Mother Nature took over and totally consumed both vehicles. Just the rooftops of Dave's vehicle and Les' wrecker could be seen poking through the ocean waves.

Nothing more could be done to rescue the vehicles until the tide turned back out to sea. Only then could a recovery be completed.

Once again, bad timing had befallen a Maine Game Warden. And a well-known businessman had also been caught in the wake. No pun intended.

Les had always been willing to help out his warden friends. We certainly gave him plenty to do over the years. Although after that ordeal, I couldn't help but wonder just how much future help he'd be willing to give either of us.

Not wanting to be devious in any way, I was solicited by sources I shall not mention, to create a cartoon drawing of a warden's cruiser with a lobster sitting behind the dash with one claw grasping the steering wheel and the other waving at folks standing along the shoreline snickering during the fiasco.

Dave's little catastrophe will forever be filed away in the history of Maine's Warden Service. It was regarded as the official christening of a state cruiser named, “Lobster One!”

There's something about bad timing — at one time or another, it's caught every one of us off guard. Some situations are worse than others. I'm sure Dave will always remember the day when Mother Nature showed him no mercy, even though he was doing all he could to protect her valuable resources. That's gratitude for you.

Sometimes these little catastrophes don't seem to be fair, but then again, we wardens seem to place ourselves in positions where, more often than not, we ask for it. That seemed to be the mode of operation I was geared to all of the time. But I know I wasn't alone. Right, Dave?

Me having a flat tire with no spare suddenly didn't seem to be such a bad story after all – especially not compared to what “Lobster One” had suddenly become to Dave. I'd been outdone by one of the best.

Ahhh, there was just something about living the life of a game warden. You had to have lived the story to really appreciate it. It was great to be able to chuckle at someone else's misfortune for a change, rather than having to dwell on my own.

More sweet memories for the diaries – there's nothing like them. I quietly relive them every day

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