There it was. I saw it in someone’s backyard, in downtown Rockland.

An old wooden lobster crate that once belonged to the William Atwood Lobster Company in Spruce Head, America.

One of Bill Atwood’s crates with his brand on both ends.

Not too long ago lobsters were stored and transported in wooden crates. Lobstermen floated these crates off the back of their boats until they took them to sell to the dealer. Dealers put lobsters they bought from the boats into wooden crates that floated inside floats or lobster cars. Lobsters from Canada arrived in tractor trailers in wooden crates.

Most crates had their sides painted with colors or initials, the theory being the owner would get “their” crates back one day. Buying crates was the cost of doing business.

Lobster buyers and dealers were the ones buying the crates. Everyone else was borrowing them. The way I used to look at it, every so often someone would have to make a “donation” to the general inventory of crates so there would be enough to keep the lobsters moving.

The empty crates were piled high waiting to be shipped back to the source and filled with lobsters. The pages of Downeast Magazine were filled over the years with colorful photos of crates piled high in coastal settings.

William Atwood was a second-generation lobster dealer from the Atwood family. His father Marston was the first generation that became the Atwood Brother’s Lobster Company in Saint George. Bill became a very successful lobster dealer with a wharf, a buying station and a storage and shipping operation on Spruce Head Island. It was a labor-intensive operation culling the lobsters by size and shipping them all over the country and around the world.

However, Bill Atwood knew how to have fun as well. He had an awesome idea for a summer party for everyone in Spruce Head. He came up with the idea for a lobster crate race, with contestants attempting to run across the tops of the crates.

After some trial and error, he found stringing crates together with seaweed inside made them float two-thirds submerged. His first crate race party was just off his wharf. It was a load of fun right from the start. The second year he upped his game by having the “Wicked Good Band” play from on top of the bait house. It was wicked decent!

I was there.

My personal best was eight crates before falling into the bay.

Bill Atwood also supplied the shedders for the Maine Lobster Festival every year. The Festival got a reliable supply of quality lobsters and awesome service. Billy never let the lobsters run out.

So it was a natural thing when the Festival asked him to bring his race to Rockland Harbor. The rest is history, as the race is now one of the feature attractions known around the world. You can see videos of young people skimming across the tops of Bill’s crates with the ends painted a crisp white background and green W A brand in bold.

This particular crate has seen its day of holding lobsters or being part of a crate race. However, with the provenance it has being a Willam Atwood crate, you could paint it and use it for a coffee table in your living room.


Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

Bill Atwood’s lobster crate. Photo by Glenn Billington