Rockland's taxi cabs

By Terry Economy | May 04, 2014

The year was 1942, World War II was upon the citizens of Rockland. That summer, gasoline rationing started and it caused havoc on those who owned automobiles. The average owner was issued a colored stamp for the automobile's windshield, allowing so many gallons per fill-up. One could drive only a few miles per week.

Excluded of gasoline rationing was public transportation. Buses and taxis. In 1942, Rockland had only three cab owners providing taxi service. Listed in the City Directory was Esther Harvey of 116 South Main St., George Phillips of 65 Pleasant St., and Arthur Rokes of 129 Limerock St. Average cab fare was 25 cents per person and for delivery service of groceries from local food stores.

After the war, the tax cab scene dramatically changed with many new cab owners. I was a young boy working in our family store, Economy's Fruit on Park Street from 1945 to 1953 and had an opportunity to observe the so-called Rockland taxi scene. The corner of Park and Main streets up to Union Street was the city's most popular corners with its hotels, restaurants, Park Theater, grocery stores, Goodnow's Drug Store, auto dealerships, and gas stations. Many of the cab companies had taxi sites in this area. During that period, taxi service was provided by and included, Wood's Taxi, Rokes and Harvey, Johnny's Taxi, Charlie's Taxi, Bob's Taxi, Waltz's Taxi and Morses Taxi. Rockland also had two bus lines: The Camden-Rockland-Thomaston Bus and the Port Clyde Bus that covered the communities of South Thomaston, St. George, Tenants Harbor, Port Clyde and Spruce Head. That bus line had a parking space in front of Economy's Fruit and many of the passengers were workers of Hocking Granite Works of Port Clyde, who were shoppers of our store before going and returning from work.

Many of the cab drivers who parked in the vicinity of Economy's Fruit became regular customers, especially to our soda fountain, which was my main station while working in the store. Many were real characters and their yarns about their passengers were always amusing to me. One who always had a joke was cab driver Ken Payson. He would come in with his big smile and order a Cherry Coke and pass along a funny joke to me. Another favorite was the late Fred Waltz, owner of Waltz's Taxi and Waltz's Lunch right next door to Economy's Fruit. He would come into the store at least twice a day and order a strawberry milkshake. He would always call me "little man, can you mix me up one of your famous strawberry milkshakes?"

Sunday was a big delivery day to some of the Rockland taxis. One could not buy beer or liquor, and some of the cabs were bootlegging to their favorite customers. Few were ever caught.

One of my favorite memories of Rockland taxis during that era was in 1948. Charlie's Taxi bought a new Kaiser-Fraser automobile that gave the owner, Charlie Rich, all kinds of mechanical problems. Evidently, he did not receive any satisfaction from the dealer of his problems. So he wrote "Lemon" on both sides of his cab to show his dissatisfaction. You can guess what happened after. To avoid any other embarrassment, the dealer made good on Charlie's complaint, fixed all of the mechanicals free of charge.

It seems now, more than 70 years later, when I drive through the intersection of Park, Main and Union streets, I can vision a parked cab. Taxi anyone?

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