Desoto car goes through thin ice, not designed for driving around on top or the bottom of a Maine lake.

The brand new car parked, still in drive, at the bottom of East Grand Lake near Greenland Cove was a Desoto. The Desoto brand car manufactured by Chrysler from 1928 to 1961. Until that was all she wrote.

desoto east grand lake
Ralph Black Drove A New Shiny Desoto Firedome, Always Kept Showroom Polished.

I remember seeing a few Desoto flavor cars in my hometown of Houlton Maine.

I think Mel Jackins had one, I know he drove a bird’s egg blue colored 1954 Buick with the distinctive side bullet hole trim markings on each side. It was winter stored for years in my Maine family homestead farm barn.

One Desoto spied at a lawn job I inherited from one of my brothers.

Ralph Black the sole driver of his red and white color scheme Desoto. He drove a beige rear engine Chevy Monza Corvair after that, then a same shade 1966 Pontiac Tempest with a six cylinder, vinyl floor and no frills. Ideal clone for a GTO but needing that 389 power plant up front and a four speed transmission installed. But talk about maintenance on his cars, anything he owned. Second to no one else in that department.

His wife Marjorie never got her driver’s license and walked everywhere in my small town to get where she wanted if Ralph was at work.

Ralph a book keeper, a bean counter for Almon H Fogg company, a local hardware, sporting goods store. “Marj” worked at Cary Library. The pair blessed in many ways but not in the children department. No kids, no storks flying over with blue or pink blanket bundles to drop off by parachute. The Maine home with green asbestos siding on a knoll they had built slowly with the Fogg’s employee discount for materials. Kept to perfection.

I was taught the right way, only way to mow the lawn and trim the grass using an Excello turquoise color reel self propelled mower at Ralph and Marjorie’s intown Houlton Maine home.

And a yellow silent push one for under trees and bushes that was sharpened yearly. You can not neck rein and swing the reel type lawn mowers around like you can the rotary ones. No scalping though and it’s why golf courses use gangs of reel mowers to clip the grass blades just so around the greens and fairways.

1954 bruick car
The 1954 Car, A Buick With The Portholes, Painted The Same Robin’s Egg Blue & Snow White.

Each week, it was up to me to peddle my banana bike into 5 Franklin Avenue from a couple miles out in the county to the green one owner ranch home.

To mow religiously without missing a beat. And if rain was happening the day planned for lawn care, I had to mentally reschedule without prodding from my parents, the Blacks, anyone else. $5 dollar bill awaits and an ice cold can of White Rock nlack cherry or Canada Dry Tahitian Treat, or Fresca that just hit the market. The latter removed from the shelves when problems with laboratory rats hit the news headlines.

Ralph kept the Desoto spotless, showroom quality long after it rolled off the car lot’s showroom floor.

He was a World War 1 survivor wearing pieces of shrapnel for life in his back. With a hint of respiratory distress, a little cough and a hitch in his breathing. Like I noticed I do on visits to Colorado where one son lives in Leadville and the snow is high, the air is thin.

Ralph’s breathing irregularity not because of high elevations like in the Rockies.

Caused instead from mustard gas exposure in the battle trenches in France fighting for the King and Queen. Ralph and Marjorie were Canadian citizens hailing from Woodstock New Brunswick like many who are blood related on both sides of the boundary line in a Maine border town. They both studied to become US citizens and made Houlton Maine in Aroostook County their new home.

Ralph liked dulse, salted dried seaweed. Marge had a sweet tooth and the candy dish on the top of the living room built in bookcase was rounded over with pink peppermints “from over home”

winter ice fishing upta camp
Easier To Access Ice Traps Using Snow Sleds These Days.

from the Farmer’s Store eh?

But back to the blog post headline about the Desoto in the dark depths of East Grand Lake.

The automobile bought and registered to Bernard Esteys. Taken for a spin with Bernie, the single driver and two couples out for a winter drive.  And only showing a few odometer miles since recently leaving the Allied Motors’s North Street sales lot. The model year for the Esteys’s Desoto was 1959. Only two more production years for Desoto before shutting down the line.

This Maine lake outing was the very first weekend the rolling iron was on the road.

Local mechanic at Allied Sales on North Street, Gene Ross shared he just serviced the Desoto for the new owner “Bernie” Esteys. Wearing a ten day plate, that Desoto car went through the thin ice. Ended up resting in a permanent watery grave at the bottom of East Grand Lake.

The Houlton Pioneer Times almost needed to place an ad for a new newspaper editor. It all depended on the outcome of the East Grand Lake event.  Whether the guy behind the wheel of the Desoto made it out alive or not. The headline could have been “Desoto Car Goes Through Thin Ice, Newspaper Editor Loses Life On East Grand Lake.”

Local attorney Forest Barnes told me at a Rotary meeting this week that his parents were in that Desoto.

So were George and Jean Roach. When the front end of the Desoto went through the ice of Greenland Point at East Grand Lake. Driving on the ice is not uncommon and it’s one way to get to your ice fishing shack on a Maine lake. Or to visit someone that drags one on and off the ice to fish. Many folks fire up the wood stove to heat their lake camps during ice fishing season. No Tik Tok to entertain you on a home device so let’s tool around Norway Point, see what’s shakin’ on East Grand Lake.

Forest said his Dad always told him if you have two inches of frozen lake ice, it would hold up a team of woods or farm work horses.

Ones used to harvest the ice back too when refrigerators were top loaded with a big hand sawn cooling square. Delivered with tongs by the Ice Man. (Not the one in Top Gun.) Using trucks not F-14 Tomcats for the mission to keep the ice box cold.

The Desoto hung up on ice, nose down, providing just enough time to not have to swim up and out.

east grand lake clock
About 120+ Feet Of Water Off Greenland Point On East Grand Lake, Danforth Maine Where The Brand New Desoto Sank To The Bottom.

The mother crawled, got out the back window. Before the Desoto took the plunge downward. Dad develop frost bite that nipped his ears and ends of his fingers.

All five counting their blessings on their walk to a cabin. To warm up and shake off the shock of how grave a situation the Desoto car going through thin ice could have been.

Forest’s Dad would suffer from that Desoto ride years, decades later. The Maine lake ride in the back of the car with new car smell left it’s mark.

Any time he was outside in winter without a hat or gloves there was flashback ice hot sensations.

Frostbite is the ice hot gift that tingles the extremities for life. Never lets you forget.

Before our new LED digital real estate sign, changing the sign letters by hand stung the ends of my fingers.

Bundle up for safety sake boys and girls. Stay off the thin ice and know where the springs are, the open water areas.

Not so easy to detect when you leave the groomed trail and when it’s night time.

Forest Barnes added to the story this week at our local Rotary meeting. He graduated from Colby College and in 1959 was stationed in Antigua.

He received mail from his Aunt Margaret that stated “isn’t it awful what happened to your mother”. And that’s all. Leaving him worried sick because Forest was out of the loop. Hadn’t read the headline, scanned the story that local newspaper editor Bernie penned himself.

The Desoto was a lower cost brand of Chrysler, produced initially to compete with Pontiac, Hudson, Willys, Studebaker .

The 1942 Desoto had distinctive front lights hidden behind the doors that matched the paint color. The Desoto on the bottom of East Grand Lake never was recovered. The plumber named Johnson who used VW pickup trucks to install and mend pipes got the salvage rights for $500.

The Houlton plumber had divers try to locate the car and they did find and then mysterious lost the Desoto with low mileage. Johnson rounded up several 55 gallon plastic drums that would be strapped to the car, filled with air and hopefully float the Desoto car to the surface.

Over 120 feet of water makes the chore of getting it back to dry shore land a little too tricky  a maneuver. Gene Ross who flew over the salvage site and saw all the lake surface boats while piloting a Cessna 172. He said he saw the red car clearly but after circling around, it was gone. Could not locate again or get a visual.

I know of a pick up that went through the ice on Drews Lake that was recovered a few years back though.

Doug McNutt or Danny Emerson, not sure but think it was Frogman Doug.

ice shacks on maine lakes
Ice Shacks In Maine! Be Careful Of Thin Ice, Open Water, Pressure Ridges. Less Dangerous When The Ice Shack Is Closer To Shore And The Water’s Not So Deep.

Who dressed up in the diving neoprene suit and mask. Strapped on air tanks to help the recovery efforts. Filling a brand new 275 gallon fuel oil tank with water and dragging it out by boat over the pickup’s location. Then lowering the water logged tank to the pickup bed.

Next wrapping it round and round with canvass tow straps and chains. More than bungie cords involved until everything secure.

Finally filling the big tank with air from a compressor tank run by a generator  to remove the water.

To cause the lift needed to float the pick up back end and begin the drag by power boat back to shore. The front wheels were turned so the towing had more resistance and required more boat engine throttle action. The frog man could not turn the front wheels and the keys still locked in the rusting ignition from the hurried exit.

Where you gotta go and swim up to the bright light. To hopefully locate the same hole caused when the vehicle went through the thin ice and sunk quickly to the Maine lake bottom.

No one hurt like the Desoto car going through the ice and sinking many years earlier on 16,000 + acre East Grand Lake.

East Grand Lake is the state’s 8th largest water body. Has over 73 miles of fishable shoreline for close to shore casting off the end of your wharf or dock. If you don’t use a boat to head to your favorite fishing hole in this International lake to wet your baited line. Locals know the black open ice areas of lakes to avoid if they like to ice fish. Pressure ridges where the ice expands and contracts areas are no secret to the natives. Stay on the trails if snow sledding, cross country skiing or ice fishing Maine lakes is sound advice.

Ice shacks have to be removed from Maine lakes by a certain date. Here’s what the legislative fine print says for that end of winter move it or lose it maneuver.

ice circles
Thin Ice, Not Able to Support Much If Any Weight.

Ice Fishing Shack: A person who owns any shack or temporary structure used for ice fishing:

  • Must remove the shack or structure (1) In any area of the State in which there is a closed ice fishing season, by ice out or 3 days after the close of the ice fishing season, whichever is earlier; and (2) In any area of the State in which there is no close of the ice fishing season, by ice out or March 31st, whichever is earlier. (Title 12, §12661).
  • Shall identify on the outside of the shack or structure in 2-inch letters, the owner’s name and address when the shack or structure is on the ice of any inland wa-ters (Title 12, §12661).
  • A person may not leave a structure on another person’s land without permission of the landowner (Title 17, §2263-A). A landowner may immediately remove or destroy a structure left on their property and may recover the costs associated with doing so (Title 12, §12661).

Ice fishing, not a fast paced outdoor winter sport in Maine.

But drilling, tending, watching the five holes bored by hand or pulling the cord on a Jiffy ice auger. Waiting for the baited orange flag lines to trip and signal “you got fish”. Maybe. Or a strike from a fish who got away with the lure.

The ice shacks often in a group of winter shanties. Like lake gypsies setting up camp when the carnival or circus comes to town. Ice fishing is just one of the many things you do while “upta camp in Maine“.

There are ice fishing derbies all winter long for prizes and bragging rights.

With a smiling newspaper and social media mug shot photo holding the landed big fish from the deep pulled up through the 5 inch hole.

Who landed the biggest salmon, bass, togue, trout, perch, pickerel or whatever kind of fish populate the Maine lake you angle is tradition.

Access by cars with plowed roadways across the sheet of ice, using snowmobiles too.

Some ice shacks are just out front of the main camp.

Or as long as you can monitor the holes, the game warden will let you monitor them from the camp picture window with binoculars. Along with someone in the fishing party giving an even closer inspection to please fish and game officials. You have to tend your ice fishing traps.

One last note, the story of the Desoto that went down off Greenland Point on East Grand Lake.

The insurance company paid up, someone bid on the salvage rights and got them for $500. But Forest said that party never exercised it’s right to hoist away and pull up the crusty prize that’s home to fish listening to the AM radio. Now there’s a story to share upta camp in Maine while playing cribbage or poker.

woods cabin in maine
The Getaway, Woods Cabin In Maine. Warm, Friendly, Snug!

What’s that… something I heard trying to make out the whispering and hush hush in the audience?

Something about just hooking a chain on the Desoto’s heavy duty steel bumper or heavy iron frame? Just twitch it out like a load of tree logs using a skidder. Just winching it in? Whoa. Rocks. Big rocks, lots of them. Some you can, many you can not see but will know when you fetch up on one that snaps your recovery cable.

Remember the one road before you get to Greenland Cove boat launch to the left is named “Boulder Road” for a reason.

If you were able to reel in the Desoto dragging it along the lake bottom, you would have a lot of missing body parts, many scrapes and dents. Defeats the purpose.

Sometimes the ending of the story is not so happy.

Like the time two couples were on the same East Grand Lake one evening and broke through the ice, all four perishing. I heard about this tragedy from the town manager of Monticello at the time. Richard Ross told me he was six years at the time. His grandparents took him in and raised him up with another plate set at the long meal time table.

Visiting ice shacks on a Maine lake, driving around the iced over body of water in winter.

Be careful. Thanks for reading the tale about the Desoto car that disappeared through thin ice, but no one was hurt badly up at East Grand Lake.

I’m Maine REALTOR Andrew Mooers, ME Broker

207.532.6573 |  |

MOOERS REALTY 69 North ST Houlton ME 04730 USA