SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — Harold “Dynamite” Payson’s boat shop has been a place of business for all his occupations — lobsterman, boat builder, writer and photographer — since he, his wife of 60 years, Amy, and his father, Herman Payson, built the shop in 1952 on Pleasant Beach Road.
Payson, 80, is known in the boating world for his boat models, plans, wooden boats and writings, all done inside a 20-by-24-foot shop constructed on a frame of poles cut from the nearby woods, and heated with a wood stove.
The author of 10 books on boats, including one on the care of saws and other boat-building tools, the former lobsterman had put away his traps in 1976 when he took up writing full time.
“When I write, I come out here in the shop, because everything I’m associated with is here,” he said of his workplace.
He writes his manuscripts in longhand, and Amy types the pages on her computer. He said he never liked the “clickety-clack” sound of a typewriter but preferred the quiet of writing with a pen or a pencil.
“I like to have absolute quietness when I’m writing,” he said.
When he writes, he clears a corner of his long workbench of boat paraphernalia and tools and starts in.
“That’s where I do my writing,” he said with a gesture toward a corner of the table.
Payson grew up in Warren, where he got his nickname from his sister’s boyfriend because Payson was pesky and kept popping up “like a stick of dynamite.”
For 10 years before settling at Pleasant Beach Road, he had lobstered from Metinic Island, an experience that his wife, the former Amy Rackliff, later wrote about in a story about their lives on the island.
The Paysons had five children. Their son David died last year.
Payson said in a recent interview that he was asked to start writing books after the publication of his article for National Fisherman about a “busted boat.”
“The article was different, all right, and it was quite humorous,” he said. “It had a whole mixture of things that appealed to people’s interests.”
The “busted boat” was based on a real incident of a boat and trailer smashing into a stone wall. At impact, the wooden boat split apart.
“It split down the middle just as if you’d filleted a fish,” he said.
Against advice to burn the boat, Payson instead rejuvenated it because he wanted to show the durability of a wooden craft.
“Peter Spectre, editor of International Marine Publishing Company of Camden, read that story and urged me to write a book,” Payson said.
Payson, who left Rockland High School after two years to join the Navy, felt intimidated about writing about boats rather than building them.
“I began to wish I’d spent more time in English class,” he said.
He remembered one English teacher who said every story has a beginning, a middle part and an ending, he said. That advice at least gave him the structure for a book.
As Payson’s books have given novice boat builders confidence and knowledge to build their craft, so he was guided by “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White to help him overcome his diffidence about his own writing.
“In a chapter about style, the authors say the style of writing is you,” Payson said. “You don’t affect a style, you’re you.
“It helped me immensely when it said not to use a 50-cent word when a 10-center will do,” he said.
“So I said, ‘I’ve got a ton of 10-cent words. So let’s go.’ That stopped me feeling intimidated about writing,” he said.
“I know my subject, and that’s what you have to have in whatever you’re doing,” he said.
“I’m so glad I read that,” he said. “I felt that I had a chance to put across what I had intended to.”
His first book, “Instant Boats,” was published in 1979. “That started the ball rolling,” he said.
Since then, he has written a book on saw filing, or the tools of a boat-builder, three publications on model boats and six on building full-size boats.
McGraw Hill or IMP, which was affiliated with McGraw Hill, has published all of his books, he said.
Payson has kept up with the electronics of the times with a Web site called instantboats.com, where one can go to buy boat plans and a catalog for perusing and dreaming about building one’s own boat.
“I get good responses from my readers. That’s very rewarding,” he said, adding that he likes readers to call him at his shop at 594-7587.
Some of his readers live far away from the Maine coast where they dream of building a boat, much like the proverbial gardener poring over seed catalogs at the kitchen table in the winter.
“I have a picture of one of my readers trying to lower his boat down to the sidewalk from a third-story apartment in New York,” he said.
His readers live “in all kinds of places all over the world,” including Capetown, South Africa, and Hong Kong.
“There are a lot of dreamers out there,” he said. “To dream a dream is OK with me.”