Gervais Nolin – Skowhegan, Maine

Gervais Nolin – Skowhegan, Maine

by Alexander M. Koch

Gervais Protais Nolin was born 15 February 1830 in Québec, the son of Francois Nolin (born in Saint-Charles, Québec on 7 Dec 1789) and Marguerite Chabot (born in Saint-Charles in April 1791). The Nolin family originated in North America with Gervais’ great-great-great grandfather, Jacques Nolin (1643-1728) who came from Perot, France. Jacques settled in Saint-Pierre, Québec, and the family stayed in that area (Saint-Charles and Saint-Pierre are very nearby one another) until Gervais’ father, Francois, moved to Skowhegan, Maine, when Gervais was still a boy.

Gervais Nolin attended area schools. His father was a blacksmith, and he entered into the trade of edge tool manufacture after his schooling was completed. He moved to North Wayne, Maine and took employment in 1848 with what was at that time known as the North Wayne Scythe Company. Following that he was employed “as a foreman or mechanical superintendant for the Dunn Edge Tool Company” for fourteen years in what was then known as West Waterville, Maine (Oakland).

According to the Biographical Review encompassing Somerset County, published in 1898, it was in 1878 that Gervais Nolin entered into a partnership with one of his brothers, Mitchell (born Michel Nolin, 18 Sep 1834). The Maine Register or State Year-Book and Legislative Manual from April 1, 1887, to April 1, 1888 lists G&M Nolin as a Scythe manufacturer on Mill Street in Skowhegan. The Review states that they made “scythes, hay knives, and grass hooks.” However, hay knives made by Nolin have not been attested by this author.

Gervais and Mitchell ended their partnership in 1895, and the following year (1886) Gervais went into partnership with his son Frank under the business name of Nolin Manufacturing Company. In January of 1886, Mitchel Nolin built a stable in Skowhegan (Skowhegan History House records).

Both scythes and grass hooks have been attested by this author, and photographs are forthcoming. Markings on grass hooks include, but are not limited to, “G&M Nolin” & “G Nolin.” Numerous of these tools are also marked “Skowhegan.” A couple include the patent date marking “PAT FEB 23, 86.” This last being patent number US336819A.

US336819-0The above image is from Nolin’s 1886 Patent Application.

Of particular note is a small (Blade length approx. 7″) grass hook marked “G&M Nolin” & “Skowhegan” with a stag antler handle and a lesser curve to the blade than most grass hooks. Obviously a specialty item, no others like it have been reported, and its intended use is unknown – though we may speculate.

A scythe blade marked “Nolin Mfg Co” & “Skowhegan, ME” has been reported by Benjamin Bouchard of Frankfort, Maine, and a description of that blade is forthcoming.

The author has a wooden shipping crate made for scythes marked “Nolin Mfg Co., Skowhegan, ME.”

Photographs of the author’s collection are forthcoming.

Nolin also holds a patent for improvements in scythe manufacture (No. 598387) dated 1 February 1898. The Lewiston Saturday Journal, an area paper, February 1, 1898 edition, makes mention of the granting of this patent.

US598387-0.pngImage from patent no. 598387

Additional patent information, genealogical information, and more, is coming soon.

Anyone with additional information, photographs of tools, tools themselves, or books or other papers with reference to Nolin, his employment at the North Wayne Scythe Company, Dunn Edge Tool Company, or anything else related to this Maine toolmaker is asked to please contact the author.

History of the Cant Dog and The Peavey

History of the Cant Dog & the Peavey

by Alexander M. Koch

A Note: This work is not yet finished, and more updates as well as a type-study of known Peaveys and cant dog styles will be added soon.

Author Note
Particular thanks must be given to the University of Maine Raymond H. Fogler Library, the Davistown Museum in Liberty, Maine, the Patten Lumberman’s Museum, Mr. Howard Hardy of Oakland, Maine, Mr. Reggie Rackliff of Industry, Maine, and Mr. Robert Lawrence of Brewer, Maine.

The cant dog and peavey are terms often used interchangeably now in Maine. Though they are different designs on the same basic principle, the latter is a newer invention (1857). The most basic design that can be called a cant dog is also known as a swing-dingle, and is simply a swivel-hook, attached by a large staple, on a solid wooden pole. It is unknown who, or when, this invention first came about, though some sources claim a German origin. It is easy to imagine what a revolutionary tool it was, allowing for much easier movement of logs. It is apparent from studying items in numerous collections that from this earliest of cant dog styles came a number of designs, some including other metal rings and plates encircling the wooden pole to give more purchase when working the logs. Then came designs with a hook that moved vertically but had no horizontal motion, thereby creating more ability for leverage and less possibility for slipping. In addition to these designs, were cant dogs with toothed steel plates on the bottom for better grip into logs, and cant dogs with what are known as a crow foot end, two curved teeth to dig into and hold the log.

As mentioned earlier, the peavey was invented in approximately 1857. Its inventor, Joseph Peavey, then of Stillwater, Maine, was a blacksmith. Mercer (1975) is incorrect in his assertion that Peavey was from New York state. This unfortunate inaccuracy has been repeated by those who obtained their information from his book. According to Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, in a retelling of a story told to her by a descendent, Joseph Peavey stood on a bridge over the Stillwater River, and watched the men with their inefficient swing-dingles working the log drive. He thought about what could be done to make their work easier, and when he returned to his smithy he set to work immediately upon his idea. Upon completion of his first prototype stories differ, some saying he walked to the post office with patent drawings in hand, stopping at his friend and fellow smith Mansfield’s home in Orono. This is where the story gets a little blurry, as some claim Mansfield took those drawings and mailed them himself, though no patent has ever been found in either man’s name.

In 1880 Charles A. and James H. Peavey, of Bangor, and Hiram Peavey of Veazie patented what they called the Bangor Rafting Peavey. This was an improved version: “in constructing this pick we form the point connected to and integral with the socket, and tapering from the tip up…” The patent was reissued in 1883 with additional improvements.


Known Maine Cant Dog & Peavey Makers (list continuously being updated):

  • E. Mansfield & Co – Orono
  • Snow & Nealley Co. – Bangor
  • Peavey Manufacturing Co. – Brewer, Oakland, Eddington
  • Ellis & Norton Co. – Kingfield
  • T.F. Cassidy – Bangor
  • Hunnewell & Ellis – Kingfield
  • Ephraim Witham – Caratunk
  • CA & JH Peavey doing business as the Bangor Edge Tool Co. – Bangor