NORWAY — When Vern Maxfield was a teenager working at a gas station, he would look at the weights and sealer sticker on the tank and think, “That might be a fun thing to do sometime.”
Now some 45 years later, he will get a chance following his appointment last week as Norway’s new sealer of weights and measures. He has also applied for the same position at West Paris, Paris, Oxford, Mechanic Falls and Poland, all the towns that retiring inspector Thomas Verrill of Auburn served.
But what does a sealer of weights and measures do? It simply assures the accuracy of commercial scales at least once a year.
“The job consists of going all places of business with gas pumps and testing accuracy of the pumps, by pumping fuel into a premeasured five-gallon can and verifying that the gauge on the pump shows that five gallons have been pumped,” Maxfield said.
The person must go into any business with scales, such as food stores, and verify the accuracy of the scales by using a set of weights.
The position has been around for centuries, and its importance historically is not small.
The procurement of a set of standard weights and measures was established early in this state’s history to ensure a successful system of commerce, said John Bott, communications director for the Department of Agriculture, where the Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations oversees the duty.
It was one of the first things required to set up Maine’s government in the 1600s, “to establish a free flow of commerce requires accurate measures,” Bott said.
Towns like Norway have appointed their own sealers of weights and measures for many years. While what they inspect has changed over the decades, the goal remains the same.
During 1915, for example, Sealer of Weights and Measures Harry Lovejoy inspected 75 scales, including weights, oil and molasses pumps, dry measures, liquids and milk jars. He condemned one scale that year.
Today, the sealer of weights and measures is more likely to be inspecting gasoline stations pumps and deli scales.
Bott said towns are not required to have local sealers. If they don’t, the job defaults to the Department of Agriculture, which has eight regional inspectors across the state.
The Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations provides marketing assistance and consumer protection for Maine’s agriculture, industry and citizens. This includes weighing and measuring devices used in commerce, such as the sale of wood and gasoline, to ensure they are correct and that standards are properly calibrated and accurate.
Bott said that in checking gasoline pumps, for example, inspectors have found inaccuracies.
Consumers can double-check some things, such as milk, themselves by simply holding the bottle up and seeing if the fluids meets the advertised measurement.
“Wood can be difficult because if there’s a standard set for volume, it depends on whether the wood is stacked or not stacked, he said.
Any inaccuracy is reportable to the Department of Agriculture, Bott said.