Centreville, MD, July 14, 2014 – On a comfortable mid-summer evening in this Eastern Shore town the porch of the Queen Anne’s County Library was filled with people intently listening to Dan Tabler, 89, talk about Centreville’s past.
He began writing on a clunky manual typewriter for the local weekly, the Record Observer, at the age of 15 as the school correspondent. World War II interrupted the reporter’s first stint on the community beat, but the military assigned the talented writer to public affairs. When he returned in 1945, the journalist who had attended the Citadel, the military college, went back to his old job and was soon made the paper’s editor.
A middle-aged man in the audience stood up about this time, saying he got his start as a cub reporter under Dan. Struggling to learn how to crank out a story, the rookie marveled at the veteran “newspaperman’s” ability to speedily get the story, type the copy, and beat the deadline.
With more than 60 years in the newspaper business, including work as the managing editor, he continues producing a popular local column for the paper. I’ve done it all, serving as reporter, editor, photographer, advertising salesman, delivery man and helping out on the press sometimes,” he said.
When someone asked if it was weekly, he replied with a smile, “Yes, sometimes very weakly.” That caused him to share another long ago memory. The paper came out on Wednesday, and we’d have to shut the street down as people arrived to watch the press operate and get a paper, hot off the press. Dan retired from covering the news beat full-time in 1986.
Two trains a day chugged into Centreville at that time, the morning and evening runs. In the 1930s when the whistle of the approaching locomotive punctuated the calm of the county seat, youngsters jumped on their bikes, rushing to the station and roundtable, he recalled. There they watched the goings on, waiting for the engineer to ease the big locomotive onto the turntable. Once the crew positioned it, they allowed the kids to push the engine around so it could steam back up the line to the main road, he recalled.
The town operated the electric system, he noted. Diesel generators at the plant supplied power for the small network. But when the ballpark came alive with a visiting team, the floodlights came on at dusk, and if the cannery was operating at seasonal capacity, the little generating station struggled to supply the load. So the engineer plunged the streets into darkness, turning off street lights all over town during the game, someone noted. You couldn’t have an important activity, an Eastern Shore ballgame or canning, interrupted.
Dan stayed active in civic affairs, serving in many capacities. Today he is the oldest member of the Goodwill Volunteer Fire Company, having served the department for 65 years. Hurricane Hazel ripped through the Eastern Shore in October 1945. Dan remembered being called out to assist with traffic and downed trees as electric lights flickered off while the wind ripped through the county. As lights flashed off and sparks from falling wires illuminated the night, he recalled standing out in the middle of Liberty Street. Listening to trees falling all around, he wondered, “What in the heck am I doing out here.” The wind also carried an empty freight car from Suddlersville to Millington.
There were plenty of other small town stories. Accounts of World War II, the National Guard, the Chesterfield Cemetery, friends, teachers, schoolmates, former residents, and much more filled the excellent evening.
As the slowly setting sun brought a beautiful Maryland day to a close, Dan pointed to pictures, shared stories and had the audience provide narratives of their own, while capably handling an array of audience questions and discussions. But the hour was growing late and it was past time to close the library, so this gathering that had everyone thinking about days gone by had to come to an end.
It was a fine program. Thanks you Dan Tabler for sharing these memories and Queen Anne’s County Free Library for putting on this packed program. One more is scheduled for Aug. 6, 2014, and we have it on our calendar.