Herman Backman, Jr., of Beal’s Island, died unexpectedly on Nov. 25. Born and raised on Beal’s Island, after graduating from high school in 1942 he attended a trade school in Dexter to study engines and other machinery. After a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard he returned home to fish with his father.

At Jonesport’s “Tall Barney’s” restaurant, Backman’s wife, Norma; her son, Ralph; Ralph’s daughter Amanda; fellow lobsterman Dwight Carver; and Junior’s last sternman and all-but-adopted son, Tall Barney’s owner John Lipinski, swapped memories of Junior in early January.

“He loved working with wood; loved to rub his hands over it,” said Ralph.

“I can see him now,” said Norma.

“He loved boatbuilding,” Ralph said, “but there was no money in it. There was no money in lobstering [back then] either, but it was more profitable than boatbuilding.”

Beal’s Islanders take particular pride in their accomplishments. Norma caught Junior’s attention his senior year in high school when she, as a sophomore, brought home the first trophy for the Washington County Public Speaking Contest. He remained proud of that, and her, all his life. When he was in school, he played on all the athletic teams. He was good at baseball, but Beal’s — and Maine — takes its basketball seriously. In Junior’s day there were so few students, he said, “If you were a boy, you were on the team. Their pride becomes just short of fanatical about basketball whether they still have relatives in school or not.” Junior trapped lobster out by Machias Seal Island. The tides there rise 20 feet. “When he started, it was almost impossible to fish,” Ralph said. “You get just about 45 minutes where the water is still enough to work your traps, unless it’s rough or windy.”

Nowadays, he explained, because fishermen have all kinds of technical equipment, hauling traps in those waters is no longer so difficult. “My father had glass bottles on the bottom and wooden trap buoys,” he said. “A lot of people got cut [by] the glass balls exploding when coming up. They used big Moxie bottles, put cork stoppers in them — they used anything they could find — and they used manila rope.”

Junior served as vice chairman of the Consolidated District School board and as chairman of the Beal’s school board over 20 years, working particularly with the construction of the Beal’s Elementary School, in 1980. Active in the Beal’s Wesleyan Church, he served as a member and vice-chairman of the Church Board.

“Being an honest fisherman means everything in the world,” he explained several years ago. “If you’re not a fisherman that people can trust, then you’re not really a fisherman. If you’re a fisherman, you always know people who are shady, [people] you can’t trust around your trap gear. If you have any morals, you want to be known as an honest man. Credibility is something you go out and earn.”

He wasn’t perfect. “Junior was very stubborn, and I would have to say, probably to a fault,” said his friend Dwight Carver. “If Junior had his mind made up, he’d dig his heels in, and you couldn’t change his mind.”

“I never did very often [change his mind],” Norma murmured.

In the late 1950s Junior sold his lobster boat and seined herring. But in the mid-1960s his love of boatbuilding led him to build a boat shop. He built some 20 vessels, including a Friendship sloop, lobster boats built on his brother Otto’s designs and some small boats.

The last boat Junior built in his shop was NORMA AMANDA, which Ralph now uses for fishing. “I keep watch of her,” Norma said of the boat named after her. “I always go over to see if she’s all right. I’ve always been interested in what the men were doing, if their boats were all right. If they didn’t come in on time, I worried about them.”

He built a lobster pound in the 1970s, but his lobsters got hit with something nobody understood: red tail. “It’s a bad disease,” Ralph said. “You could eat them, but they were so weak, they died fast.” His business and that of another poundkeeper went under. “That was a disaster,” Norma said. “We lost our house. We lost everything.” Junior went back to lobstering and started working his way back up.

In 1991, he and several other fishermen, because they felt the Maine Lobstermen’s Association didn’t represent down east lobstermen, formed the Down East Lobstermen’s Association. For the next five years, as its president, he did his best for the welfare of his members and educated the public on the differences between eastern Maine’s fishing grounds with their rocky bottoms and extreme tides and those to the westward. Norma, who accompanied him on many trips up and down the coast and to Augusta, said, “He worked some hard at that.”

In 1996, Commissioner Robin Alden asked him to represent lobstermen from Stonington to Eastport for the DMR. After serving in that capacity for several years, he returned to Beal’s and trapped lobster, built boats with his nephew Bennie Beal, and worked with Beal’s lobsterboat race engines. “I miss working with him a lot,” Beal said. “We were very close. He was good at a lot of things.” Carver said, “Junior took great pride in the fact that he could do most anything. If he believed in something, he’d stick to his guns and work hard at it.”

Sandra Dinsmore profiled Junior Backman for Island Journal and Working Waterfront in the 1990s.