October 23, 2018
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Ole Time Woodsman, a Maine fly dope from the 1880s, is back

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Kenneth "Skip" Theobald III, owner of Ole Time Woodsman, holds an old bottle and a new bottle of the product at his home in Prospect. Ole Time Woodsman is a fly dope with a story that spans back to the 1880s and Maine logging camps.

Ole Time Woodsman, a fly deterrent with a story that spans back to Maine logging camps in the 1880s, has been resurrected and is now available for purchase online. With a pungent scent that is meant to mask the natural odor of a ripe lumberjack, the dark brown liquid is made from the same recipe as it was more than 100 years ago.

“It’s a mixture of pine tar, petroleum distillates — like mineral oil and stuff like that — and essential oils,” Ken “Skip” Theobald III said. An angler, hunter and businessman from Prospect, Theobald purchased the company from his father and has recently worked with the Environmental Protection Agency in Maine to get it back on the shelves after a two-year hiatus.

“It brings back a lot of memories, the scent does,” Skip Theobald said. “And it works. That’s No. 1.”

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Ole Time Woodsman, a fly dope with a story that spans back to the 1880s and Maine logging camps, is now being packaged and sold by Skip Theobald of Prospect. The 100-year-old concoction is not an EPA-registered skin-applied insect repellent, but it's being marketed as a "human scent camo" to be placed on clothing and gear, with the purpose of keeping away black flies, mosquitoes and other biting insects.

Skip Theobald, who grew up in Brewer, remembers he and his grandfather using Ole Time Woodsman when they’d go fly fishing together. The strong-scented concoction would keep them hidden from the hoards of blackflies and mosquitoes, biting insects that inevitably pester anglers throughout the summer in Maine.

In 2008 that Skip Theobald’s father, Ken Theobald II, purchased the age-old fly dope — the recipe and trademark — from New York businessman Pete Rickard. He then researched the history of the formula and pieced together its story, which is now included on the product’s packaging.

“While fishing in Maine in 1910, Obie Sherer and his fishing buddy Dr. Donald Adams decided they needed to come up with something to make spring fishing in the Maine wilderness a little more enjoyable,” the story goes. “Working from an old 1882 recipe, they mixed up a batch of Ole Time Woodsman.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
An old advertisement for Ole Time Woodsman is displayed in the living room of Skip Theobald of Prospect, who purchased the company just under a decade ago. Ole Time Woodsman is a fly dope with a story that spans back to the 1880s and Maine logging camps.

“On their next trip to Maine, a logging crew spotted Obie fishing peacefully. Obie told the foreman all about his product and agreed to make a batch for the company. When the first batch was used up, the woods crews clamored for more. As a result, Obie decided to go into business and named his new product ‘Ole Time Woodsman’ in honor of his first customers. Since then, generations of outdoors folk have continued to rely on Ole Time Woodsman to make their wilderness experience more comfortable, peaceful and memorable.”

Skip Theobald purchased the company from his father in 2010. Because the recipe includes ingredients that are not approved by the EPA for skin-applied insect repellents — such as mineral oil (petroleum) — he markets the product as a “human scent camo” and has taken the phrase “fly dope” out of its description.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Kenneth "Skip" Theobald III, owner of Ole Time Woodsman, holds a bottle of the product that he estimates dates back to the 1950s. Today, he uses the same recipe for what was initially called a fly dope and is now marketed as "a human scent camo."

“I had to pull it from the store shelves in Maine [in the summer of 2016] when it had ‘fly dope’ on it,” Skip Theobald said, “but now that I’ve got the labeling and stuff [changed] and the state of Maine seems happy with it, I think I’ll put it back on the shelves.”

Skip Theobald plans to get Ole Time Woodsman back into stores, starting with Maine stores, next summer. And until then, people can purchase it through his online store, oletimewoodsman.com.

“It’s always been a human scent camo,” he said. “If the bugs can’t find you, they can’t bite you.”

On the bottle’s label, it’s recommended that Ole Time Woodsman be placed on clothing, hats and bananas — not skin. “While not harmful to the skin,” the directions state, “applying directly may cause irritation to those with sensitive skin.”

Any irritation would likely be because of the mineral oil in the product, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends people avoid skin contact with mineral oil because it can cause irritation to skin, eyes and the respiratory system.

However, historically, many people did apply Ole Time Woodsman to their skin. An old 1950s bottle of the fly dope that Skip Theobald keeps on a shelf in his living room reads “FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY.”

“You don’t want to drink it,” Skip Theobald said with a grin.

Though Ole Time Woodsman has never completely disappeared, it’s certainly gone through lulls in production over the years as the recipe is been handed from one person to the next. In recent years, when Skip Theobald placed the product online for purchase, he saw many former customers come out of the woodwork to share their stories about the old fly dope and its unforgettable scent.

“I sell it all over the nation,” Skip Theobald said, “but in the Northeast, from New York up through here, is where most people buy it. And Michigan, I have a huge following in Michigan.”

He mixes it in a 5-gallon buckets in his garage, then transfers it into 10-gallon drink coolers, which have the perfect spigots for pouring the mixture into 2-ounce bottles, each retailing for $10.

Despite his struggles with the EPA, Skip Theobald says that business has stayed fairly steady for Ole Time Woodsman in the past decade, and he hopes to someday expand its production beyond his garage so he can sell to large outdoor retailers.

For now, he’s just focused on getting it back on the shelves of Maine fly fishing shops and outfitters, where customers can pick up a bottle, pop the cap and experience the unforgettable scent for themselves.

 


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