I often seek out people who I think I can learn something from, and I've been especially interested in people who practice traditional trades and crafts.
So about 8 years ago when I met Huston Dodge through a mutual friend here, I was very excited, for Huston is definitely a wellspring of information, stories and inspiration.
He is a woodworker, a tinkerer, a collector.
And he lives just down the road from me, so I get to see him quite often.
Huston demonstrating hand saw sharpening at The Carpenter's Boat Shop
Huston can still hear and see quite well (without hearing aids or prescription glasses), and is generally in good health. He attributes this to not smoking and to eating a raw clove of garlic at every meal.
I believe that his natural curiosity, relaxed attitude towards life and positive outlook also contribute to his vitality.
Throughout his life, Huston has found allies and mentors in his love of hand tools and old fashioned ways of working wood. As a child, he would spend time learning from retired shipbuilders, who taught him about working wood in the old ways and about old tools and techniques. One of his early teachers was Charles Perkins, a retired carpenter who lived on Cottage Street in Damariscotta. Edward Bates was another, he was a retired railroad engineer and worked maintaining the golf carts at the Wavenock Country Club in South Bristol, where Huston worked as a caddy when he was a young man. Another teacher, Warren Brown, was a retired carpenter who maintained a wood shop at the foot of High Street in Damariscotta.
From these men Huston learned about how to use tools, repair engines and work with wood. The woodworking lessons he learned from these early encounters have been honed over a lifetime of work.
Huston never liked sports, he says: "It just didn't make much sense to waste all that energy chasing a ball around when I could be making something useful instead".
It was considered a bit odd for a boy to not be involved in sports of course, but he found that making things was another way to fit in and get along with his peers.
After a year he found a job at Wallace Nutting's furniture manufacturing company in Framingham, Massachusetts, building reproduction early American furniture. Here he lived above the wood shop and was eager to learn from the Swedish and Lithuanian craftsmen that worked for Wallace Nutting.
Within six months though, Wallace Nutting had died and the U.S. had become involved in the Second World War.
Later he served in Belgium, where his main duty was to maintain cooking stoves for the 109th Observation Squadron.
Throughout his time in Europe he continued to craft small projects with wood in his spare time. These he stored under his bed. With a small tool kit of mostly self-made tools and scrap pieces of wood, he found enough free time to build several scaled down pieces of furniture, the originals of which he had seen in antique shops on his days off in Paris. He made it home from the war, and he has kept all of his models from that time.
Huston mostly sawed 6 foot long logs which he would carry out of the woods and to the mill in (or on) his 1957 Willy's Jeep.
Huston was once married, when he was fifty years old. The marriage produced a son, but eventually ended in an amicable divorce.
Huston was always easy to spot when driving his 1957 Willy's jeep through town, usually loaded down with salvaged materials from various 17th and 18th century buildings from all around Maine. The jeep's roof rack was a necessary and handy way to transport materials. Huston told me he once brought home a forty foot ridge beam on top of his Jeep.
Huston's various properties around Damariscotta, with their many out buildings, are storage areas for the years upon years of collected buildings and materials he and or his son have salvaged. The local landfill is also a place where Huston would look for usable items to add to his collections.
Huston now spends much of his time reading and studying. He has a keen interest in early American history, African drumming, and metaphysics.
While I was teaching chair making and boat building at the Carpenter's Boat Shop, I would invite Huston down as a weekly guest to help me teach woodworking to the apprentices. I found that having him around added greatly to the experience of the apprentices. Many of them enjoyed hearing his stories of woodworking and tools. He sometimes gave special presentations on hand saw sharpening and using wooden moulding planes.
I have found Huston to be a kind, thoughtful friend and mentor.
I am very inspired by his collections of antique tools and salvaged materials.
His knowledge of woodworking, metalworking, timber framing and antique restoration have added greatly to my experience and education as a woodworker.