Dale Crafts of Lisbon Falls. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LISBON — On his high school football team, co-captain Dale Crafts did it all: a running back who also played defense and took the field with the special teams as well.

“My tongue was pretty much hanging out” by the time a game ended, the 61-year-old congressional candidate recalled recently.

But he was the kind of guy who “was full speed ahead all the time,” Crafts said.

And, he said, he still is.

Crafts is one of three Republicans vying in Maine’s 2nd District in a July 14 primary for the right to challenge first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat. He faces former state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn and Adrienne Bennett of Bangor, who served as Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary.

Crafts, who has run a string of small businesses over the years, relies on a wheelchair to get around but it has not limited his drive or ambition.

On a Friday afternoon in early May 1983, Crafts was riding his motorcycle, heading back on Littlefield Road to his father’s garage.

As he crested a hill, he saw a car making a left turn into a driveway right in front of him. Crafts swerved, lost control, struck some trees and thumped onto the ground.

Crafts said he remembers “laying on the guy’s front lawn and looking up.”

Before long, at Central Maine Medical Center, he learned that he had a severe spinal cord injury that left his legs paralyzed.

“That was quite a day,” Crafts said.

Crafts said he struggled with the news that he would need a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

His deeply faithful grandmother would not stand for his complaints.

“I can still hear her voice: ‘Now Dale, you have to be an over commah.’ I started to grow resilience through her support. I would not allow my accident to define me,” Crafts said.

He plunged forward.

“My struggle has not been the wheelchair,” Crafts said.

Dealing with the more routine effort of balancing work and family has proven more troublesome. Single now, he is twice divorced.

He married for the first time at age 19, not long after graduating from Lisbon High School. The young couple soon had a daughter, he said.

Despite a doctor’s warning he would not have more children, Crafts’ second marriage brought five more young ones.

Crafts said he remains “really good friends” with both women and adores his six children and 14 grandchildren.

Crafts has always been a hard worker, following in the footsteps of his 87-year-old father who at age 12 bought a used 1927 Buick for $10, fixed it and sold it from his parents’ front yard. John Crafts went on to become the youngest Ford dealer in the country.

Dale Crafts said he learned about business early on from his father.

“I always had a little side businesses,” he said.

He got a job at Bath Iron Works for a few years as a young man, but the position “kind of tied me down,” he said, so he left it and began working with his dad and two older brothers. They started transporting cars between Maine and Florida.

After his accident, he got into home building, helping to put up spec houses just in time to catch the boom years during Ronald Reagan’s administration. That led to bigger jobs digging foundations and the like for commercial projects.

Crafts said he would operate excavators and bulldozers, crawling from his wheelchair and pulling himself up into the seat of the equipment.

“Some of my determination is kind of off the scales,” Crafts said.

He sold the construction business just before the economy tanked and then got “a crazy idea” somehow of building a modern fishing boat and taking it to Grenada to demonstrate to fishermen there how they could do better with new boats.

Dale Crafts with a specially equipped van years ago. Submitted photo

Those years, he said, taught him a lot about Third World politics and what happens when authorities who want a bribe don’t get one. In short, it didn’t work out well.

But he also bought a self-storage business in 1992 that did just fine. He later bought a second location and built a third one in Topsham. All have been successful, Crafts said.

Crafts has also flipped houses on the real estate market and tackled other ideas for making money.

“I’ve never been afraid to step out,” he said.

Beyond his business interests, Crafts loves the woods.

He enjoys hunting so much that he bought a specially constructed wheelchair with tracks on it, like a miniature tank, so he could “walk in the woods” and hunt by himself.

“Tears ran down my cheeks” when he realized what the new chair meant for him, he said.

Crafts, who taught Sunday school for years, served on the Lisbon Town Council and logged four terms as a state representative.

He got into the U.S. House race, he said, after former Gov. Paul LePage and state Sen. Jeff Timberlake asked him to run.

“You guys calling the right guy?” Crafts said he responded. When he thought about it, though, he decided to jump in.

“I believe 100% this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Crafts said.

From all of his experiences, he said, he’s learned some wisdom that helps him understand the importance of working together with people he doesn’t agree with politically in order to get things done, like Reagan once did with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

“This gray-haired man brings a lot to the table,” Crafts said.

This is the second of three profiles of the candidates in Maine’s 2nd District Republican primary on July 14.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: