Rockland recollections: The Narragansett Beer Wagon

By Terry Economy | Jul 01, 2011

It was 1943, World War II was upon us and the citizens of Rockland were getting accustomed of that dirty word "rationing." Certain food items were rationed in our grocery stores and gasoline was rationed in several ways.

The regular driver of an automobile was allowed a certain amount of gasoline a week. Commercial businesses were allowed more to get their goods and services delivered. It seemed in either case that there was not enough gasoline available, except for the black market, which we won't get into in this writing, to satisfy every driving need.

So people looked to other means of transportation — buses, trains, and the horse. Even during World War II, business was competitive, especially in the delivery business. Some looked in other ways to get deliveries, one such was a Rockland wholesale beer distributor. Eastern Incorporated initiated a unique idea that was popular 50 years ago, the horse and wagon.

That was how I got introduced to the Narragansett Beer Wagon and my life long friend, John Brown. A new neighbor, Leo LaCroix, was the manager of Eastern Inc. and in his spare time he would play catch with me in our driveway at 9 Prescott Street. During one of those sessions, he said that his company just received a beer wagon and two new horses to start deliveries in Rockland.

He had just hired a driver named John Brown and would I be interested in taking a ride sometime? Well, you can imagine the thrill of an eight year old to take a ride on a wagon driven by two beautiful draft horses. A few days later, Leo LaCroix and I visited the stable on Winter Street to see the new wagon and horses. There, he introduced the new driver, John Brown. Here was this large gray-haired man wearing a western style hat with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile as long as Penobscot Bay.

It seems he knew me by the way of our family store, Economy's Fruit, on Park Street. And he said "so this is the little Economy boy that I have heard about from your older brothers" as he lifted me up on the seat of the wagon.

We rode up Winter Street a short ways to Eastern, Inc., where the wagon was to be  loaded with cases of beer for a delivery run. The wagon could hold about 50 cases of beer, six cases to a tier. The large horses, silver with brown colors, were named Buster and Billyboy, and were well mannered. When John said "whoa" they stopped, and when he yelled "go" with a crack of a whip in the air, the horses would start.

Once loaded, we rode up Winter Street and headed south down the cobble stoned Main Street to our first stop at Anastasio's store. It was quite common during those days that store personnel would help the driver to unload and pat the horses. Because of gas rationing, there was not to much auto traffic, so the wagon could double park in front of the stores if parking space were not available. After our first stop, we crossed Park Street to the front of Oxton's stores where in one stop, John Brown could deliver both to Oxton's and Flint's market.

I felt great sitting on the wagon seat, not knowing how my behind would feel on conclusion of our deliveries. Our next beer stops on Main Street were Treenier's Market, A & P Store, Glendennings Market, Jack Green's and finally my cousin's store, Naum and Adams. There, both Vasker Naum and Spiro Adams came out of the store, pointed to me, and shouted "Who you got There" with smiles on their faces." This stop was a good excuse to have one of Naum and Adams famous milkshakes.

And again, a delivery was made next door to George Stevens Groceries. Our final stops were at Duncan's market on Main Street and then we headed down Crescent Street to Fuller's Market. After, the Narragansett beer wagon went down Ocean Street, Main Street and up Park Street to Economy's Fruit.

There I got off with John Brown's help when Earl Cook, the manager of Economy's, came out to help with our final delivery and asked if I had a good ride. As I went over and started to pat the noses of Buster and Billyboy, Earl wanted to know why I was rubbing my behind.

The Narragansett Beer wagon went on for another two years with John Brown as the driver until the war ended. I had several rides during that period to other parts of Rockland. John Brown came to work at Economy's Fruit in 1946 and was employed their until 1960. He became my special friend until 1982 when he passed away.

Terry Economy was born in Rockland. He graduated from Rockland High School and has had a long career in broadcasting, and is a member of the Maine Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

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