JAMES F. STEELE BROOKLIN – James F. Steele, whose work and enthusiasms ranged from, but were not limited to, handsome and solidly built homes to wooden boats, died March 1, 2007, at his home in Brooksville, Fla. Over the past two years he had suffered from multiple myeloma. He had recently celebrated his 70th birthday. Jim Steele was born in Bangor, the son of Andrew and Margaret (Brown) Steele. After graduating from Ellsworth High School, Class of 1955, he turned to building in wood, working for various building contractors and boat yards in the Blue Hill and Brooklin area. During the winter of 1965, he worked as an underground miner at the Harborside mines for the Boyles Bros. Drilling Co., an experience he never forgot. He started his own contracting business in 1964, first with small cottages and remodeling, then moving on to high-end summer homes that became known both for the quality of the building and the integrity of the builder. At the same time, with the encouragement of the late Capt. Havilah Hawkins, Jim started building peapods, essentially a one-man operation. His ingenious tooling, his pneumatic riveting machine, the automatic rabbet cutter for stems and keels, an elevator building jig, and many other innovations made news in the boat building world. His challenge was always in increasing production efficiency, rather than offering different types of boats. The Jim Steele Peapod, identified by the Coast Guard as DPS, Downeast Peapod Steele, was offered in three degrees of finish, the painted model, called the “Chevrolet”; the “Cadillac,” with varnished seats and sheerstrakes; and the “Rolls,” that sported an all-varnished interior. Over the course of 42 years, Jim built a total of 178 peapods, including the last “Chevrolet,” nearly finished in fall 2006. This peapod is being completed for delivery by Jim’s son, Jeff. During the summer months, these peapods are a familiar sight along the coast, whether accompanying the Maine schooner fleet or ferrying passengers to the dock from the handsomest yachts in the harbor. As someone once said, it’s the classiest way to travel. One very special peapod is on display in Mystic, Conn., as part of the Mystic Seaport’s watercraft collection. After retiring from the contracting business, Jim purchased land at the entrance to Herrick Bay, Brooklin, where he built and operated DPS Marine, a facility for building, repairing, hauling and storing boats. This property was sold to Atlantic Boat Co. in 1999. In retirement, in addition to the production of peapods, Jim was always busy collecting, inventing and restoring tools. He built miniature engines and models of antique engines, as well as handsome half models of wooden boats. He was an active member of the Brooklin Planning Board and chairman of the Building Committee for the new Brooklin Elementary School, which was completed in 1995. Its cupola was one that he designed, built and donated to the school. Jim was a charter member of what later became the Traditional Small Craft Association, as well as Mystic Seaport’s Small Craft Workshop. When Wooden Boat Magazine was burned out of its offices in Brooksville, Jim became vice president of the organization that made the Mountain Ash property available for the magazine at its present location in Brooklin. Jim Steele is survived by his loving wife of 31 years, Pamela Webb Steele; his son, Jeffrey Steele and Jeff’s wife, Sharon, of Bradenton, Fla.; grandchildren, Lindsay Steele of Largo, Fla., and Christopher J. Steele of Bradenton; three sisters, Joyce Spurling of Deland, Fla., Lucille Albee and husband, Lawrence, of Salisbury Cove, Jeanie Taylor and husband, Tim, of Northeast Harbor; many cousins, nieces and nephews. Not to be forgotten is his special friend, his cat, Smudge. Jim was predeceased by his parents; a granddaughter, Terri Steele Poole; two half brothers, Donald and Richard Steele; and a niece, Judy Albee. A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. March 31, at Brooklin Baptist Church with the Rev. Alice Hildebrand officiating. After the service, a time of friendship and refreshments will be held at the Brooklin School. Those who desire may make contributions in Jim’s memory to one of the following, The Class of 1955, Ellsworth High School Scholarship Fund, care of Jean Aldrich, 96 Point Road, Hancock, ME 04640-3727, The Brooklin Keeping Society, P.O. Box 4, Brooklin, ME 04616, The Brooklin Volunteer Fire Company, P.O. Box 17, Brooklin, ME 04616. Arrangements in care of Jordan-Fernald, 141 South St., Blue Hill. Condolences may be expressed online at www.jordanfernald.com
JAMES F. STEELE
Posted Sept. 25, 2008, at 11:15 p.m.