The Gas House & the Lamplighter
Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!
By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Historical Society Museum
Gaslights provided light to Millinocket homes until about 1920. The Millinocket Gas Company gashouse was located near the railroad tracks behind Katahdin Avenue. The lamplighter was Orville Crommett. The streetlights in the downtown area required manual lighting. Instead of walking around with a ladder and a sawed-off pool cue with a hook on the end to turn the valve, Crommett chose to ride Old Bill, leaving his hands free to turn the valve on and off. Old Bill was kept in a woodshed near the gas company.
One day Crommett asked young John Galvin (age 12) to tend the lamps so he could go fishing. Galvin would earn fifty cents. He made the rounds on foot and lit the lamps. When it was time to extinguish the lamps, Galvin decided to ride Old Bill. “There was just room for Old Bill to squeeze through (the door), and in order to do that, he had to duck his head.” Galvin saddled Bill, turned Bill around and waited while Bill ducked his head and started through the door. “There was a loud crash and there stood Old Bill, half in and half out. The saddle horn had caught on the top of the door and the saddle had ‘slidden’ all the way to the back of Bill’s hind legs holding him fast.” Galvin, still inside, was unable to get out of the shed! He managed to slip the saddle down so Bill could step out. He then realized Crommett must put the saddle on outside the stable.
He got Old Bill saddled and with left foot in the left stirrup, hand on the saddle horn and reins in his right hand, Galvin tried to get his right leg over Old Bill’s back. Old Bill danced around in a circle. Galvin then made the decision to walk the route leading Old Bill and using the pool cue and hook to turn the valves. A few lights later, they were at the light by the Congo Church. Galvin decided to out-fox Old Bill. “I gave him some sugar cubes and backed him over to the church sidewalk steps. My plan was to mount at the highest step and catch Old Bill unaware and be on his back before he knew what happened. It almost worked. I got my left foot in the stirrup and my left hand on the horn. As I threw my right leg over, Old Bill jumped sideways and I found myself clinging to the horn and the reins, one leg in the stirrup, the other under Bill’s belly.” Galvin states he got out of the predicament when Bill stopped moving.
They continued walking and tending the lights until arriving at Oxford Street School. More steps, but these had a “big flat railing that anyone could stand on and drop on an unsuspecting horse’s back.” Galvin got ready and just as he jumped, “Old Bill moved gracefully aside and I found myself flat on the ground.” Back to walking! As they neared the Baptist Church, there was a vegetable garden and gooseberry patch with a flat-topped fence. Again, Galvin tried to get from the fence to Old Bill’s back and as you’ve guessed, he landed in the gooseberries! Gooseberry bushes have thorns. That was the last try. They finished the walk and finally Old Bill was back in his stall.
Later, Mr. Crommett, came to the house to pay Galvin his fifty cents and thank him for helping. When asked how he liked riding, Galvin replied that he had decided to walk. Crommett replied that “he was glad, because he had forgotten to tell me that Old Bill would never let anyone mount him from the left-hand side!”
This story is taken from an editorial written by John Galvin and donated to the museum by grand-daughter Ann Catherine Bonis. It was included in a school project she did several years ago.