By Steve Landwehr
MARBLEHEAD — If one physical attribute defined Wayne Martin, it was probably his hands. Not because of their size, although at 6 feet, 3 inches, he was a big guy and those meaty paws no doubt came in handy whenever he was taking part in his lifelong avocation.
No, it was what Martin's hands produced that's being remembered. His friends and family will tell you that's any task his mind set them to.
Martin died Friday, April 4, in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 69.
A lifelong 'Header, Martin built all the houses he and his wife, Priscilla, lived in after they married. The first was on Schooner Ridge, then one on Cloutmans Lane.
Next was Roosevelt Avenue, where he also built four other houses, and finally the Turner Road home where he lived at the time of his death.
A skilled craftsman, Martin also enjoyed making furniture and for a time owned Adams Cabinet Shop on Anderson Street.
"Give him a piece of wood and he could build a cabinet with it," son Dirk Martin said.
Those skills came to be particularly welcome at the Gerry No. 5 Veteran Firemen's Association, one of the town's two handtub teams. Handtubs are the oldest form of mechanized firefighting equipment, human-powered forerunners of today's pumper trucks.
Martin rebuilt the Gerry No. 5 three times in his lifetime, most recently two years ago. That's no small feat. You can't run to NAPA or Sears for parts for these antiques, and most everything has to be fabricated.
"He was a self-taught man, but God gave him so many talents he barely scratched the surface of them,"
his wife, Priscilla Martin, said.
"He even helped me make these curtains," she said, pointing to the living room drapes.
Earl Doliber, a member of Marblehead's other handtub team, the Okommakamesits, said he was particularly pleased that Martin restored the Gerry No. 5's original, brownish red color during its last overhaul. The previous fire-engine red was the rage in the 1850s, but not in the 1840s, when the handtub was built.
"It's a restoration, which most of them aren't," Doliber said.
Martin was one of only five life members of Gerry No. 5, and also a member of the Okos and the American Hand Fire Engine Society (he was also on their Executive Committee), which owns and operates the Protection of Ould Newbury. He was also a life member of the New England States Veteran Firemen's League.
Martin organized several old-time firemen's musters over the years, and one time made legendary Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler the master of ceremonies. For 10 years, he also coached the Marblehead Youth Rifle Team, taking several of his proteges to the Junior Olympics.
Rafts, trains and boats
As a young man, Martin was an accomplished sailboat racer, competing in Lightnings and the Midget Ocean Racing Fleet. The couple belonged to the Boston Yacht Club for a time, but Priscilla admits she wasn't a boat person, and they eventually withdrew.
She said that while her idea of vacation accommodations is a room at the Holiday Inn, she and her husband once spent two weeks traveling by train throughout Europe, with nothing more than three changes of clothing in their backpacks.
There were many other trips, as well. Whitewater rafting on the Colorado River and numerous trips to their favorite destination, Bermuda, and a cruise to Hawaii.
But the one constant was always those busy, creative hands. Making a thimble display case for "Pris," as he called her, building or repairing furniture and houses and keeping that old handtub running. And if the tool required was charm, Priscilla said he used that, too.
"He could talk the birds out of a tree," she said with a smile.
Martin was a dedicated and active Freemason, and his wife said its central tenet of charitable work shaped his life.
"Anybody who stopped by here and needed something, he was out the door doing it," she said.
In a way, he kept doing that even after he died. His bones were donated, along with his eyes.
"So someone can see something he never saw," Priscilla said.
Martin died one day before the couple's 44th anniversary. There will no doubt be generous tributes offered in his memory, but his wife's simple, wistful compliment may be as much praise as any husband could hope to earn from his spouse.
"He was a fun guy."