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Veteran railway operator is Oyster Festival Captain

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Ed Deagle stands near the railway his father purchased in 1935 and named Deagle and Son Marine Railway in Deltaville. The railway is in operation today and trades under the name of Chesapeake Marine Railway. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry S. Chowning

The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation has named Deltaville native Ed Deagle the Captain of the 55th annual Urbanna Oyster Festival set for November 2-3.

Deagle grew up in a maritime family. His father, Lee Deagle, operated a small railway on Jackson Creek until 1935 when he purchased Linwood Price’s large railway on Fishing Bay.

Deagle and Son Marine Railway became a mainstay for hauling large commercial vessels and was one of the busiest railways on the southern bay. It was well known for converting the aging Chesapeake Bay schooner fleet to power vessels.

After graduating from Syringa High School at age 18, Deagle went off to fight in World War II. “When I was drafted into the service, I put as my occupation ‘boatbuilder,’ ” he said at his home on Fishing Bay this week.

“They put me on a ship with 3,000 others and sent us to New Guinea. Our job was to build three railways,” he said. “We set up a shipyard and built 56-feet-long launching craft that were used in the invasion of the Philippines. The boats were sent to us in six sections and we worked in shifts, 24 hours a day, right there on the beach.”

Deagle had learned the boatbuilding trade working on boats at his father’s railway. “I remember when Daddy bought the big railway. The first boat he hauled was the ‘Harriett C. Whitehead.’ She was one of the biggest commercial schooners on the bay. She was leaking real bad.”

Deagle continued, “The captain came up to the railway and asked Daddy if he could haul the boat out. ‘Yeah,’ Daddy said, ‘but I’ve got to fix up the railway a bit.’ The railway was off the track and the boat was so big she couldn’t go between the two piers. So old man Tom Wright, Ladd and William Wright, and Ernest and Albert Games volunteered their labor to help Daddy get the railway on the track and pull the piers up. Daddy told them he didn’t have any money to pay them, and they said they didn’t care and went to work.

“They got the railway fixed and started hauling the Whitehead,” Deagle said. “She was heavy and hogged, and Daddy didn’t know how to haul a boat that size. When they started pulling her up on the railway she broke a [wooden] tie. It went off like a cannon. They came ahead a little bit more and broke another tie.

“Daddy said, ‘Hold it right there. I’ll be back in a minute.’ Allie Ruark had a beer joint a ways down the shore. Daddy went over there and drank two bottles of Arrow Beer. He felt good then. Walking around the shore and before he got to the railway he yelled, ‘Take her ahead.’ What happened was that the weight settled and was distributed between the rails. Then she went right on up. Daddy always said, ‘I hauled that boat with two beers.’ ”

Another interesting story involving Ed Deagle happened when he was a teenager working around the yard. “An old [sailing] Chinese junk ran aground off Stove Point and they could not get it off. The Coast Guard tried, and several other people tried, but it would not come off so someone told the owner that Daddy might be able to get it off the shoal.

“The man came over and asked Daddy if he could do it. Daddy said, ‘Yeah I can do it, but it’s going to cost you $500.’ The man said, ‘Please go get my boat.’

“So Daddy said to me, ‘Go down there and get that log boat and bring her up to the dock.’ We had a little log boat that had a big prop on her. She was used to tow stuff around. She wouldn’t go fast but she had plenty of power,” continued Deagle.

“At low tide, we went over to the boat and positioned our boat right up against the side and started moving fore and aft. That big prop was making a trough in the sand and, as the tide rose, she began to move. We put a line on her and pulled her right off. I guess it took 30 to 40 minutes.

“We towed her over to the railway and tied her to the dock. The man was standing there. Daddy got out of the boat and said, ‘There she is Captain, where is my $500?’ ”

“The man said, ‘Damn if I’m going to pay you $500 for 30 minutes work.’ ”

“Daddy turned to me and said, ‘Start that boat back up son. I got her off there and I sure as hell can put her back on there.’ ”

“The man paid the $500,” Deagle said with a chuckle.

Urbanna Oyster Festival board member Charles Bristow said the festival is honored to have Ed Deagle as captain of the festival. “Our captains must have a maritime heritage and Ed certainly meets that criteria,” Bristow said.

Ed and his wife Kitty will ride in the Fireman’s Parade on Friday evening of the festival and in the main parade on Saturday afternoon.

posted 09.26.2012

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