Chicken barbecue pit master to retire tongs and mitt

Bill Hahn reminisces about his experiences volunteering for the Thomaston 4th of July as the man in charge of the chicken barbecue for the last 25 years.
Photo by Catinka Knoth
Bill Hahn reminisces about his experiences volunteering for the Thomaston 4th of July as the man in charge of the chicken barbecue for the last 25 years.
Posted June 27, 2011, at 6:14 p.m.

THOMASTON, Maine — Volunteer Bill Hahn has seen to it for 25 years that the chicken barbecue at the 4th of July celebration is ready  to serve  350-400 dinners as soon as the parade ends at noon. This year will be his last. The 4th of July committee will give him a special send-off honoring his services in providing the traditional meal. The committee also seeks a replacement to take over and continue the operation, which has been an important fundraiser for the festivities.

Hahn first got involved with volunteering for the 4th of July in Thomaston  when it was organized by the Breakfast Club, with community members Lucy Mayo and Sally Hill. “Back then you had to go through a rites of passage working first at making the popcorn, then perhaps doing the cotton candy,” said Hahn.

He said the Firemen’s Association used to put on the chicken barbecue as a fundraiser for its organization. A private vendor then took over the concession for a few years. When the committee found itself with no vendor to run the concession one year, Hahn decided he could take it over as a fundraiser for the event. He had just moved back to Thomaston from Portland.  In Portland he  had worked for the phone company and occasionally helped a co-worker put on chicken barbecues at corporate affairs.

For the first few years a friend helped him put on the barbecue for Thomaston’s festivities. Hahn continued to borrow his friend’s pits in Portland. These were the only pits available to Hahn that were large enough for the purpose. According to Hahn, it requires a large set-up to cook the quantity of chicken that can be ready and served during that one hour after the parade when hungry diners crush onto the festivity grounds.

Several years later, local businessman Bob Liberty had a large set of pits specially made to use for a big yearly charity bike ride event he was involved with. Hahn  borrowed those pits for years until he finally inherited them. Every year he and his regular crew of six to eight volunteers haul them out and set them up along with a dining tent, tables and chairs. Hahn said  they use the same tables that fellow townsman Albert Harjula built for the festivities around 30 years ago. The tables need replacing.

He joked that he wanted “to see it keep smudging out the craft tent when the pits get smoking. It has been at the same location along the fence behind the craft tent and Masonic Hall so long that the grass no longer grows there. This 4th of July dining tradition needs someone to make sure that keeps happening!”

Hahn said he would help train a new group willing to take over the chicken barbecue. He feels it is important that young people get involved with volunteering for the festivities. He said that all the main activities of  the festivities need to have more than one person ready to do a job.

Hahn said that at $9 a dinner, which includes half a chicken barbecued with Hahn’s  special secret sauce, coleslaw, roll with butter and name brand soda, the meal is a good deal. He will pass along the secret sauce to the committed volunteer team that steps forward to take over the tradition.

Hahn is now in the hospitality business and works from his office at The Country Inn in Camden. He also served as a Thomaston selectman for several years. He loves most to be out skiing and  to play the piano. He plays two music gigs a week. “You can find me on Thursday evenings playing at Billy’s Tavern in Thomaston with fellow musicians Reny Stackpole, Susan Davenport and Mike McFarland,” he said.

For more information about the chicken barbecue, email committee chairwoman Julie Russo at julie@brookstrapmill.com or visit  http://www.thomastonmaine4thofjuly.com/.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/06/27/news/midcoast/chicken-barbecue-pit-master-to-retire-tongs-and-mitt/ printed on August 21, 2014