VINALHAVEN — Just like many of his neighbors, Charlie Reidy sees evidence of his work when he takes a boat ride around the island. But it’s not lobster buoys he’s seeing.
“I built that addition there,” he’ll think to himself, “I did that dormer. I redid the roof on that house…”
It gives Reidy, 47, a sense of satisfaction that he is leaving his home island an improved place.
Reidy moved to the island in 1982. Before that, he lived with his parents and nine siblings on Islesboro, where his father had been the school principal. At about 12 years old, he helped renovate a barn on Islesboro. By collecting the discarded lumber from that project, he and a friend were able to build a camp in the woods, he remembered, smiling, as he gave a tour of the island in his pickup truck.
The building bug runs in the family. Reidy’s brother Norman also is a carpenter on Vinalhaven and brother Bill does carpentry work on Islesboro. Reidy sometimes works with Norman, and the two refer work to each other.
He’d fished through his high school years, but soured on that work when the boat he was on sank 100 miles offshore and he and the rest of the crew had to be rescued.
“College stared looking pretty good after that,” he joked.
Despite his early affinity for working with wood, Reidy was aiming for a career related to aircraft. But the avionics college he attended closed after two years.
So it was back to the island.
Though the building bust that coincided with the recession has been felt on the island, Reidy has managed to stay busy, supplementing his income by serving as caretaker on a couple of houses.
He estimates that 80 percent of his work is for seasonal residents. A recent trend he’s observed is that instead of building new homes, would-be seasonal residents are buying existing houses and renovating.
Like others in his work, relationships with customers are key.
“I’ve worked for people for more than 25 years,” he said. “It’s all about trust. The word of mouth is the thing.”
On the tour around the island, Reidy stops to show off a graceful summer home.
“My wife’s grandfather was a carpenter out here,” he said, “and I ended up building an addition for the same house he built” years earlier, giving the project deeper meaning.
Reidy estimates he’s built a dozen houses from the foundation up, relying on subcontractors, but in recent years, it’s mostly been one-man jobs, such as building decks, remodeling kitchens, replacing roofs and adding on rooms. In slow times, no job is too small. Pointing to one house, he said he recently built some bookcases for the owners.
“And I was the one who painted the bookcases,” he said, explaining that this sort of service is what the homeowners expect. Other small jobs include building a railing for a deck and repairing screen doors.
With a portable sawmill, Reidy cuts his own boards from logs cut on his woodlot for, among other things, special projects like desks and tables.
Passing though another part of the island, Reidy points out a tidy house, constructed in the mortise-and-tenon, post-and-beam method, which he built for his family when he was just 25. Today, he rents the house to the island deputy.
Island carpentry isn’t always easy, though. Viking Lumber has a yard on the island, but Reidy can’t always find what he needs there and may have to wait days or even weeks for a delivery via the ferry. On this day, he was waiting for a Marvin window from EBS. A large truck must pay $100 to travel on the ferry, so suppliers group orders or charge customers extra.
When a foundation for an addition is needed, getting a cement truck to the island is even more problematic. Often, the truck has several stops to make, so a partial pour is all the builder can get for his project, which is less than ideal. An alternative is having the Island Transporter barge haul a cement truck to the site, but that can be tide- and weather-dependent.
And with some of the more extravagant houses on which he’s worked, Reidy said, there are logistical problems—like four-hour conference calls with architects.
But the pay-off is on that boat ride around the island, quietly thinking about all that he’s built and improved.