BANGOR, Maine — Jeff Russell carefully opens up the weathered book of maps and begins pointing out the notes that his grandfather scribbled years ago.
The book — a copy of DeLorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer — isn’t a true antique. In fact, it’s only about 40 years old. But it’s special to Russell, who notes that DeLorme’s mutipage map books changed the way people travel around Maine.
“They were a part of the fabric of really figuring out what Maine looks like, where you can go in Maine, recognizing many distinct portions of the state and places you’ve never been,” the 51-year-old attorney says.
Last week, news that GPS giant Garmin will purchase the iconic Maine mapmaking company made headlines around the state. It didn’t take long for Mainers to begin wondering if Garmin would continue to publish the venerable book of maps.
Russell was one of the first to reach out with his own DeLorme story when the BDN asked for reader submissions on the topic.
Russell, a pilot, said he has owned Garmin stock for years, and relies on Garmin products to navigate his plane. But he’s also got a collection of old DeLorme Gazetteers, including his grandfather’s black-and-white edition from 1976-77, the first or second year DeLorme — then called David DeLorme and Company — produced them.
“You see how this is held together with masking tape?” Russell asks, opening the cover on his grandfather’s DeLorme. “These were well-used, well-loved.”
Russell said the maps — 70 in all, with Map 1 covering Kittery in the south and Map 70 showing the woods west of Fort Kent — helped define the Maine experience for him and a generation of Mainers.
“For those of us who grew up in Maine in the ’60s, Maine was defined by your parents driving you in an automobile,” Russell said. “What you saw was Maine. You often didn’t know precisely where you were, where you were going or why you were going, but that world was your version of Maine.”
Then, he discovered the DeLorme gazetteer.
“As these maps came into existence, we started to realize that there were many, many nooks and crannies in Maine, and many, many distinct Maines, and many places that needed to be explored, that could be explored,” Russell said. “The next thing you know, once you had one of these [gazetteers], they became indispensable.”
So what happens if those paper maps are no longer published in a collection like the gazetteer?
“We lose the serendipity of exploration through the tactile source of paper,” Russell said. “Because we discover things, often, when we’re looking at other things [on a map]. My fear is that we’ll no longer be able to sit around at camp on a rainy afternoon, with a DeLorme out, planning a trip. GPS doesn’t work really well for that.”
Some Mainers consider DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer their own backwoods bibles. The collection of maps works perfectly for planning expeditions afield, and can prompt plenty of discussion around a wood stove after a long day of hunting or fishing.
When the BDN asked for readers to share their thoughts on the iconic map book, dozens responded, telling us how much the maps have mattered to them.
“I’m using a new one now, maybe a year old that I bought at the company store. Plastic covers, very spiffy,” wrote Bill Barker of Westbrook. “My last one lasted about 10 years and was so ratted out that it was falling apart. The cover was more duct tape than paper. My wife and I both have one in our cars, with my wife’s car carrying a New Hampshire one just in case we stray over the border.”
Barker said he’d love to own all 50 state gazetteers, but now settles for five: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Florida and New Mexico.
“I love maps. I’ve never used a GPS, although I’m not prejudiced against them. I think they’re wonderful for the cartographically impaired,” Barker wrote. “I prefer to get an overview of my surrounding terrain so I can navigate with confidence. My wife and I are hikers and fishermen and we love using maps to search out new locations and new routes.”
And Barker admitted he’s worried about what the future holds.
“I’m not sure I want to adjust to a world without quality maps. I’m trying to adjust to the Maine Island Trail charts being online only,” he wrote. “What if my phone falls into the ocean? What if the damn thing just craps out? I’ve never had a map freeze up on me and have to be rebooted. A map has never pixelated on me. I’ve never dropped a map and had the screen break. And a map never came with a monthly data charge.”
Norman Blake of West Baldwin echoes some of Barker’s sentiments.
“I have two [DeLorme map books]. I believe that my Dear Sweetie has another, but she won’t let me mess with it,” Blake wrote. “One is fairly elderly, but lives in the house on a bookshelf. It’s worn a bit, but respectable and not tattered. The staples parted company from the front cover years ago, but I have no reason to be ashamed to pull it out in front of polite company, which we don’t have much of anyway.
“My other copy lives under my seat in the truck. It’s quite legible, mostly, apart from a few stains, but the heavy front cover is gone. One doesn’t need the cover to know what the book is, and all the good stuff is inside in any case,” he continued. “People sometimes stop at the house and ask directions when their multicolor, wide-screen GPS tries to send them up a nearby logging road that is little more than a rough ride in the tractor. I produce the ‘house’ DeLorme and show them a better way. I hope the whiz kids at Garmin know better than to stop printing the DeLorme book. But I’m not worried. I’ve got mine!”
Jason Fonseca is a flight nurse for LifeFlight of Maine, and he said that even in a modern aircraft, the maps can be helpful.
“I thought you’d get a kick out of knowing that we carry a DeLorme on each helicopter, right next to all of our aviation maps,” Fonseca wrote. “It’s helped us find many a lost hiker, injured snowmobiler and remote intersection. When we get launched to help a local fire department or EMS crew, it’s that tattered, gridded atlas we reach for first to help us envision what our landing zone might look like!”