PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle native who patented and manufactured an electric hoist that was used for decades during the potato harvest has died.
Roy J. Trombley, who also owned and operated a successful construction and redi-mix concrete business in the Star City, died Jan. 6 in Venice, Florida. He was 97.
In 1949, Trombley patented the Trombley Electric Hoist. The device has a foldable crane arm and a grapple used to lift potato barrels onto a truck.
Gaylen Flewelling, who owned and operated Gaylen Flewelling Farms in Easton, said he remembers using a Trombley hoist on his farm.
“We had three or four of those hoists, and they were a great invention,” he said. “It got so that the person that was loading the truck and the driver could coincide, and there was a grapple that would hook over the barrel, and the truck could just keep on going. And if the person on the back had any skill at all, he could throw the grapple on and get the barrels on the truck without the truck stopping.”
Flewelling said his father, Fenton, used to tell him how barrel loading was done before the hoist was invented.
“There would be a man on the truck with a set of grapples like they used on pulp, and they’d hook the grapple into the side of the barrel, and he’d lift up while another person on the ground would get the bottom of the barrel and they’d get them loaded,” Flewelling said. “The electric hoist saved a lot of time and a lot of hard work. It was a simple thing, but was maintenance free. About the only thing that would wear out on them would be the starter, which supplied the current to the wheel that turned it.
“Anyone who had pickers had a Trombley hoist,” he said. “It was a very popular device.”
Richard Rand of Presque Isle, a former mathematics teacher at Cunningham Middle School and the University of Maine at Presque Isle, owns a 1946 Chevrolet farm truck that features a Trombley’s Electric Hoist. The farm truck has been in numerous local parades, and Rand also has visited schools with the truck to discuss potato farming in Aroostook County.
Rand said the hoist had an electric starter for a motor.
“It has a battery on it, and the battery is charged by the engine generator. You’re running a cord from the engine generator,” Rand said, noting Trombley’s invention was “a labor-saving device and was faster.”
Franklin “Guy” Beaulieu remembers Trombley as a nice man.
“Roy lived down the road from us on the Chapman Road. My dad, Edmund, worked for him for 20 years, when he was in construction and built the cement plant,” Beaulieu said. “My dad ran a bulldozer for him.
“He was a very nice, generous person. He was a person who would help people,” Beaulieu said. “I went to school with his daughter, Geraldine, so we knew him all our lives.”
Trombley was predeceased by his wife, Helen Gould Trombley. He is survived by four children and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at a later date in Presque Isle.