SABATTUS — At age 14, Jim Wood got a job with the town road crew digging ditches and doing other grunt work for 38 cents an hour. He joined Sabattus’ volunteer fire department soon after.
In the decades since, he’s been road commissioner. A reserve police officer. Fire warden.
Three years ago, Wood ran for selectman and won.
Now at 85, he’s stepping away from public service after an almost 70-year-stretch, and taking it easy. Mostly.
“I got done what I wanted to,” Wood said Thursday. He cautioned with a warm smile that he’ll be back, “if anything goes wrong.”
For now, Wood is down to one job: plowing and hand-sanding half a mile of road in Greene.
“He’s happiest when he goes, goes, goes,” said Louise Wood, his wife of 57 years.
Wood grew up in a family of eight children at the Elm Street address where the couple lives, though the old house is gone. Wood’s father, Frank, was a road commissioner, selectman and state legislator.
Jim Wood joined the fire department because he’d heard they needed volunteers. His first major blaze was in 1947, in the area of Williams Road. A woodcutter warming his dinner had lost control of his campfire.
“We was a whole week out there,” Wood said. “It burned clear into Bowdoin. We had the old firetruck, a ’31 Chevy.” It’s still with the department, as an antique.
Wood attended hundreds if not thousands of calls during his 65 years with the department before retiring in 2009. He was deputy under three chiefs.
“I tell the story, we used to crawl under the smoke,” he said. “Now they’ve got all these masks — they’ve sure upgraded it.”
For much of his adult working life, Wood plowed snow for the town in the winter and worked for the state tarring roads in the summer.
He was the town fire warden for 50 years, road commissioner for a total of 10 years and a reserve police officer for another 10, back in the 1960s and 1970s.
“We had a shooting gallery down at the school,” Wood said. “We used to take on all the other police departments (in the area) and beat them all.”
He was inspired to run for selectman three years ago because of concerns over Public Works, special to him because he’s helped mill the lumber and physically build the buildings.
“My Public Works was falling apart, that I started, and it made me mad,” Wood said.
He won by more than 80 votes.
Wood and Louise raised two girls and two boys, one of whom, Steve Wood, is now a state representative.
“I think he likes the fact that you still have a say in what goes on in town,” Steve Wood said. “He’s very into hometown rule.”
Leaving Sabattus has never been an option for his dad, Wood said. “He won’t even be a winter resident in Florida.”
Town officials surprised Jim Wood with a send-off last week, giving him a framed case with his original police reserve and deputy fire chief badges along with a flag that flew over the Town Office during his last meeting.
Town Manager Andrew Gilmore said Wood has dedicated himself with fairness, compassion and “old-school Mainer pragmatism.”
“It’s been an honor to work with Jim and will continue to be,” Gilmore said. “I don’t believe for a second he’s hung up his public service hat. Sabattus is absolutely a better place to live and work from having Jim’s strong influence in this community for as long as it has.”