When it came to driving a truck, there was no obstacle dangerous enough to prevent Roland L. Howard from completing his mission.

Mr. Howard delivered heating oil to the top of Mount Washington, and during the great fire of 1947 he delivered water to firefighters stationed on the front line of the disaster in York County.

Mr. Howard died peacefully at Maine Medical Center on Wednesday with his family by his side. The longtime resident of Gray was 90 years old.

“My father has always been the truck driver extraordinaire. Truck driving was in his blood,” said one of his daughters, Denise Toppi of Westbrook, who ended up marrying a truck driver.

Mr. Howard was born in Portland in 1920, and his family eventually moved to Canton. He was the oldest of seven children.

He left high school early to take a job and help his family financially. “He needed to step up to the plate to help his mother support their family, and he did,” Toppi said.

Mr. Howard worked various jobs, including shoveling coal from trucks into residential home bins. “He’d come home covered from head to toe with coal soot. He shoveled coal all day,” his daughter said.

In March 1936, Mr. Howard, who was 16 at the time, happened to be home with three of his younger siblings in Canton, an Oxford County town with a long history of flooding. They became stranded as rising water from the Androscoggin River turned their house into an island.

“He rescued his brothers and sisters by pulling them through a window and putting them in a rowboat. Then he rowed them to safety,” his daughter said.

Later in life, Mr. Howard became a truck driver and dispatcher at Merrill Transport Co. in Portland.

He told a harrowing story of how he had to deliver oil to the top of Mount Washington. “It was frightening for him because he didn’t like heights,” his daughter said.

Toppi said her father tended to downplay his life’s big moments, preferring to go unnoticed. But after he read a 2007 story in The Portland Press Herald about the October 1947 fires that burned 200,000 acres in southern Maine and the Bar Harbor area, Mr. Howard was inspired to write a letter to the editor.

He recalled in that letter how he was asked to drive his truck to Kennebunkport and report to its fire station. He filled his 4,000-gallon tank with water and drove Route 9 to Goose Rocks Beach.

“We pumped water at the buildings, but the fire in the trees above soon grew too great with the blowing wind, and we were forced back to Route 9 and the Atlantic Ocean. We were trapped, as we were unable to go east or west until the fire burned itself out,” Mr. Howard wrote.

Toppi said her father was trapped in Kennebunkport for three days and two nights. Only eight homes in Cape Porpoise escaped damage, and 14 homes burned to the ground.

In another one of his jobs, Mr. Howard spent many years selling heavy-duty dump trucks, logging trucks and tractor-trailer trucks.

“He sold the big rigs,” his daughter said.

In his spare time, he built a camp on the Crooked River in Naples using scrap wood and materials from the old Gorham raceway grandstand that was being torn down at the time.

In 1973, at age 53, he earned his high school GED. His accomplishment inspired a family member to do the same.

“My father was steadfast. He took care of his family the best he could,” Toppi said. “His philosophy was he did the best he could with what he was given.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]