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Mother Always Said That Deaths Come in Threes

By Robert Spencer, Over the Dam

Mother always said that deaths come in threes, but I couldn’t figure out what she meant until the recent deaths of three older friends here in Waterford. Obituaries summarize the significant elements of a person’s life. This is not an obituary, but a remembrance of three neighbors in Waterford City.


When David Sanderson (1943 — 11/10/23) died, struck down by a tree he was dropping for a neighbor, I lost a friend who brought Waterford history to life for me. He told me so much about past lives and businesses in our part of southern Oxford County that an older way of rural life was easy to understand. A writer, researcher, musician, and actor, he sometimes thought he was Artemis Ward. He knew so much about Henry Ford’s favorite fiddle player Melli Dunham that I was sure David was the Norway snowshoe maker’s nephew. David and his late wife Kathy lived in the Sanderson family farmhouse and barn, their own museum, built in the 1860s. The man was more meticulous in his research than almost anyone else; and anyone who disagreed with his theses was, of course, incorrect.


Prentiss Kimball (12/4/1930 — 7/19/2022), another friend who brought local history to life, was, as most know, a builder, a plumber, decades-long Town Plumbing Inspector, and owner of Kimball’s Hardware with wife Edith. He was also an artist, furniture, and children’s toy builder. Prentiss also carried in his head countless stories of historic facts told to him by his father and grandfather. When he was a boy, his mother would tell his dad to take him down to Bear Pond and catch land-locked salmon for supper. He could show you the stone markers laid out by surveyors in 1897 for the track of a narrow-gauge railroad line that never was built. Once, when I asked him if Bear Pond Road was laid out on the ancient “Scoggins” Indian trail, he informed me that the old trail “was a bit closer to the water.”


When I began to come to South Waterford on a regular basis, Phil Chaplin (9/26/35 — 8/23/22) operated “Phil’s Mobil” full time, year-round. On Sundays when I walked over to the station for a copy of The Press Herald, we tried to strike up a conversation. I say “try” because it was difficult to understand his words. Once he may have said “you can’t get there from here”, but I’m not sure. In time we began to understand each other, though there was much repetition of words required. More than any other neighbor, Phil knew how to “keep the wheels of industry turning”. He understood the details of machinery, not their history. One August I hiked along City Brook. Perched on a large block of split granite was a primitive hydraulic ram pump using the power of water in the brook to pump water up hill through a flexible plastic pipe to his garage where it turned a waterwheel. When I asked him about it. He laughed and told me the device was used in the early 1800s to power a hoist in a local blacksmith shop.


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