The dictionary describes character as “the pattern of behavior or the personality found within an individual; his or her moral constitution.”
Without fail, every town in my patrol area had its share of memorable characters. You know, those types of folks who for one strange reason or another, managed to stand out above the rest.
Many of the characters with whom I became so well acquainted with seemed to exhibit and an attitude of total defiance for most of the wildlife laws governing our society. A total and blatant disregard of the rules of the game, one might say.
They were totally oblivious to the consequences of their actions until, they suddenly found themselves caught red-handed with their paws in the so-called cookie jar.
For these folks, a stubborn attitude wasn’t simply ignoring the rules, but more so; an attitude whereby they simply didn’t care if they disobeyed those rules. They’d worry about the consequences later on. And only then, if they happened to have gotten caught for some infraction.
It was this defiance of the fish and game laws that introduced me to more than one interesting town character during my career. But then again, it was these people who I found myself dealing with most often. They were the types who provided us game wardens with so-called “job security!”
For the most part, I found these characters to be highly likable folks. It was just their disregard of society’s rules that made them what they were.
The first one was Grover, the so-called, “ Modern day Robin Hood,” of the poaching clan. His notoriety spread throughout Central Maine with a ruthless and testy dislike for anyone in a uniform. Especially game wardens!
Although Grover lived outside of my normal patrol area, he seemed to know every square inch of it.
After receiving several warnings from law-abiding folks living within my district and the same advice from several police officers who had dealt with him in the past, I was told not to turn my back on the area’s most noted poacher. As of yet, I had yet to meet the man face to face.
I knew it was only a matter of time before we were to confront each other. When it finally did happen, I rather quickly sized him up as being somewhat amicable, to a certain degree . His demeanor was rather intimidating, mainly because of his large size and a deep raspy voice. He had a tendency to talk down upon those he was speaking to in an authoritative manner.
I could sense from our very first gathering, he thoroughly enjoyed being regarded as Maine’s most notorious poacher. He certainly did nothing to discredit the rumors.
Rumors circulated throughout Central Maine crediting Grover with shooting 100 deer or more per year. Most of them well under the cover of darkness. Just listening to these countless stories made me wonder if the man ever got to sleep at all. But then again, my situation wasn’t much better, as I tried night after night to catch him and others just like him in the act of creating their dastardly deeds of what we wardens referred to as “night hunting”.
The truth be known, somehow after my first official meeting with Grover, I personally kind of respected and kind of liked the man. We just happened to be on opposite sides of the fence as to interpreting the reasons for the fish and wildlife rules, that’s all.
Grover’s reputation of supposedly using force and intimidation toward anyone who defied his activities were quite unfounded as far as I could tell. But still the rumors prevailed how vicious he could be throughout the Central Maine area, even though I never once could find anyone who said they’d actually been threatened by the man.
I simply wondered if perhaps it wasn’t his highly inflated reputation that made most of them believe he was capable of doing them harm. One that he himself may have started!
Over time, I found the many rumors circulating about Grover to be quite exaggerated. It was a classic case of public perception that whenever he shot one deer underneath a light, by the time the community heard about it, he had shot 15-20. Not to say he didn’t illegally kill far more deer than what he should have, because there was no denying that fact.
There were so many rumors concerning Grover’s illegal activities, rumors which he never rebutted. My own dealings with the old boy over the years substantiated this fact quite well.
“The Modern Day Robin Hood,” a title which he thoroughly enjoyed, referred to the fact that no illegal meat he ever handled was ever wasted. According to his own sheepish confessions, many folks who were up against hard times actually benefited from his illegal activities.
During the course of my career, our paths officially crossed several times. On some of those occasions the exchanges they were pleasant under the circumstances, although a bit taunting towards each other in a friendly sort of way. More so, to impress the associates hanging around him at the time!
Other times, we experienced a few real knock down drag-out war of words. Verbal battles with the tempers rising to the point of nearly boiling over into a physical confrontation, but yet never reaching that point of where it did get physical.
We shared a mutual sense of respect for each other. A respect that at times was almost comical. In Grover’s words, “I kind of like you 10 months out of the year. It’s those other two months when I had just as soon not have you around,” referring to the busy fall hunting season, October and November.
Without fail, once the hunting season was over, I’d see Grover’s vehicle pulling into my dooryard, where he expected a cup of coffee and an hour or more of ragging on each other over just how the year had been. He was loudly bragging about what he had gotten by with – and likewise, I made a few points of my own, reminding him of his upcoming scheduled for a future court hearing or two.
Grover was just one example of the several characters I’d get to meet in my profession. He by far, was the moist intimidating and noted one I would be dealing with over the years!
There were many, more characters that our paths would cross. Each of them with their own special traits and their own individual personalities.
Take Big Jim, from the town of Troy. Now Jim was an unusual chap just by his size alone. You see Jim stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and, he tipped the scales at well over 500 pounds. His unkempt beard and large round face gave him the appearance of being a giant standing in amongst giants.
I knew my chances of ever being in a foot chase with Jim were slim, but my many dealings with him were not.
I recall joking with him one day about the possibilities of chasing him out through a field some night right after he had blistered a big buck underneath a bright light.
His response was classic. “Hell John, I could eat a big box of ex-lax during the day – to be primed and ready just in case you decided to chase me at night,” he chuckled loudly to those around us.
His rather humorous statement certainly needed no explanation. I didn’t even want to think about it!
The chances of Jim ever running off on foot were slim at best, no pun intended.
I could faithfully plan on officially running across Jim and his cohort, Alan, every fall. I usually would find them in one compromising situation or another.
Jim was a character alright. He always seemed to be jovial, very slow-moving, highly manipulative, and sly as a fox. Those were just a few of the words I’d use to describe the man.
I first met Jim and his companion Alan, working far out in the woods along Unity Plantation.
Alan was doing all the hard labored work while Jim maneuvered the skidder to and from the yard. He had chosen a rather plush job compared to the hard work Alan was tackling.
It was definitely quite a sight to behold, witnessing Jim filling the entire cage of the mechanical monster. His bulk caused the machine to look like a little Tonka Toy.
The two of them made a good pair. They were like two pea’s in a pod. Wherever you found one of them, you’d find the other.
What one couldn’t think of, the other one could!
I vividly recall an occasion when I had Jim into court for a series of wildlife violations. The Judge found him guilty of the charges, assessing a hefty fine, granting him a period of time to pay the fines off with a stern warning that he’d be arrested if he didn’t settle his debt with State of Maine in full, at the end of the grace period the Judge granted for him to raise the money.
As usual and expected, Jim neglected to fulfill his obligations to his honor.
The judge angrily issued an arrest warrant, demanding that I seize possession of the giant and bring him immediately to the Waldo County Crowbar Hotel. Otherwise known as the County Jail!
I spent the next few days searching for my buddy. It was rather obvious that he knew I was in hot pursuit of his body as he did whatever he possibly could to avoid the inevitable.
Several times I stopped by his residence, knowing full-well that more than likely he was sitting inside but he wouldn’t make his presence known.
The task turned into a regular cat and mouse game. I proudly become the cat pursuing the large mouse. A mouse that was definitely trying to stay one step away from me. It was only a matter of time and a whole lot of game playing before the gig would be up!
I was what one might say, highly determined to bring the justice of the law to the gentle giant!
Finally I figured out a plan where I could get the “mouse, out-of-the house! Through one of my police sources I heard that Jim had his prized chain saws stolen from one of the woodlots where he and Alan had been working.
More than likely, it was taken by someone who Jim owed a little money to and as a result it was being held as collateral. After all, it wasn’t only the courts who never got their money.
Armed with this little tidbit of information, I devised a hastily put together plan.
I again went to Jim’s house, in order to make yet another nuisance appearance. Just as before, Carol his wife, disgustedly claimed he wasn’t there and she didn’t know when he’d be back.
I knew damn well he probably was smirking freely perched right in the next room, smiling like a young virgin exiting a house of ill-repute after a rewarding visit.
After departing the residence, I beat feet to the Pittsfield Police Department, where the stolen chain saw report had been taken.
I had a plan that just might lure the big boy out of his secure home and into the backseat of my cruiser after all.
At the police department, I removed my own dilapidated chain saw from the trunk of my cruiser and dragged it into the police station.
The patrolman on duty joked, “You going to cut the tree’s down around here, John?”
“Nope, I’m going to execute an arrest warrant and hopefully you’ll help me do it.” I sarcastically sputtered.
I then proceeded to explain my unsuccessful dealings with Big Jim and his little game of playing hide-and-go-seek in order to avoid the arrest warrant I possessed.
I asked the patrolman to call Jim’s house and create a false story to lure him to head that way.
Obligingly, the young officer made contact at the home inquiring if he could speak to Jim. Somewhat reluctant Jim’s wife replied, “he isn’t here and I don’t know when he’ll be back. Can I leave a message for him?” she grumbled.
Following the script as planned, the young officer stated how he had just recovered a chain saw from a residence in Pittsfield. “It possibly could be the one that James reported stolen a while back.” the officer emphasized.
“Jim needs to come to our office hopefully to identify it as soon as possible, or else we are going to have to return it to the person we seized it from,” she was advised.
Her attitude suddenly changed. Anxiously she said, “I think I know where I can reach reach him. Just as soon as I do, we’ll be right up.” she excitedly told the young cop.
“That’s great”, said the officer, “We need to clear this matter up as quickly as we can.”
With big grins on our devious faces, the waiting game was on.
Big Jim had swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. Soon he might end up in the tank, and I didn’t mean the fish tank!
I grabbed the arrest warrant authorizing me too seize the monster and quickly ducked into a small office just out of plain sight. The wait was on for big Jim to hopefully arrive.
Exactly as planned, the old pick up truck listing heavily to one side from the excessive weight of my hefty friend, came skidding into the parking lot like a man on a mission.
Big Jim slowly maneuvered himself out of the vehicle with Carol toting along a few feet behind him. She was just like a puppy following its dad. Together they rapidly shuffled across the parking lot and directly into the police station.
I held back in the room as the young officer greeted them in the lobby. He was holding my old beat up blue chain saw in his hands.
“That ain’t my gawd-damned chain saw,” Jim disgustedly grumbled.
“Mine is a good one and not a mongrel piece of shit like that,” he disgustedly sputtered.
“Besides, mine is a Husqvarna – and they are orange and not blue,” he continued ranting and raving.
I quickly stepped out into the room where they were gathered.
Jim defiantly looked my way, almost as if he was shocked! He gruffly stated, “I think I’ve been *!**!* had!” he smirked.
With a big grin on my face I said, “ That you have Jim, That you have!” as I proceeded to advise him he was under arrest and that we were going to be taking a ride to Belfast together.
It was a struggle shoving the 500 plus pound monster into the back seat of my cruiser but somehow we managed.
The car was riding mighty low as we struck out for the long 40 mile ride to the Waldo County slammer.
Along the way we joked between us about what had just transpired and how he thought there was a trap being set for him but he just didn’t dare not go.
This wasn’t the last times our paths would cross. As a matter of fact in later years there would be an incident where I think I could write an entire book about the story in itself.
I had to go to Anchorage Alaska where he had moved, in order to get him out of jail to face some fairly serious felony charges he had been indicted for. It was a story that I would end up labeling, “the trip from hell!” but that’s for another time.
Jim was one of those town characters I’d continue running across. He was one that was a little more distinguished than some of the others I’d meet, but yet he was sort of likable in his own sort of way.
I shouldn’t admit it, but I surely enjoyed every one of these characters. As one by one they became welcomed additions into the game warden diaries I was keeping. After all, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have had a job.