In a previous article I mentioned that Jack Shalek and his wife had already begun the burlap bag business in Boston several years before they had decided that their future perhaps was in Presque Isle, Maine. Jack began by securing second hand burlap bags, cleaning them and then selling them back to those who marketed mainly potatoes in the Boston area.
This was back in the '30's before paper and plastic bags were used for shipping. The practice then was to ship Aroostook County potatoes to the Boston market in bulk via railroad then package the product for area distribution upon arrival. But then in the late '30's, the farmers in the County decided that it would be better business if they packaged the spuds themselves at the point of origin. This decision virtually eliminated the burlap bag business in the Boston area. Jack, together with his son, Stan, who was 21 at the time, realizing their future was in northern Maine, moved their operation in 1939 to Presque Isle where the bags would be needed. Burlap, which is a coarsely woven cloth, made of fibers of juke, flax or hemp was primarily imported from British India. The burlap arrived at port in bales and then shipped by rail to their destinations. Shalek Bag Co. initially located just across the street from the Canadian Pacific RR Station on Academy St. at the corner of Academy and Cook. The factory was situated right beside the RR tracks for easy delivery.
As the bag company matured and expanded, burlap would make way to paper and, later, plastic packaging. A core of 7-10 employees was year round, but would increase substantially during the fall and winter when most of the potatoes were shipped. Miff Dow recalls his father, Milford, working for the company for almost 30 years as a principal support of the company and its operations. Lena stayed home and raised their 3 children.
During WW11 she worked at the Army Air Base in P.I.. Recall that Lena was born in Fort Kent and part of the Etscovitz family.
In 1956-1957 the bag company had outgrown its facilities on Academy and a new factory was built at the end of Davis St. where Cowett's is today. It was (still is) a large, Butler metal building, no doubt, one of the largest at the time built in Aroostook County. The location was desirable because of the availability of a railroad spur feeding off the
B&A line that also fed the fertilizer plant on the Fort Road.
The mid '60's brought change to the bag business in general. Larger companies nationwide were entering the bag business and increasingly made it more and more difficult for smaller companies to compete. At that time, Stan made the decision to sell the bag company to MPG. The deal was completed in 1965.
Jack and Sue Shalek moved back to Brookline, MA in 1966. Stan and Lena (Lee) remained in P.I. until 1968 then moving, along with younger daughter, Anne, to the Augusta area. Older sister, Ellen (again, to whom I am eternally grateful for supplying family history), graduated from PIHS in 1965 and brother, Ian (as of the day of writing, Friday, indebted to him also) graduated from PIHS in 1962. Eventually Stan and Lena relocated to Phoenix, Az in 1970. Stan passed away in July of 1990. Wife, Lena, remains in Arizona.
I'm a bit unsure of just exactly what will be highlighted in the next installment of 'Forgotten Times'. Whatever it is will appear in about a month. I have several ideas and much information on each. If any readers have comments or even requests, please e-mail: RAG111@webtv.net
last updated : April 27, 2011