Fred Pecci as a youth. Contributed

I enjoy reading stories about how children were once expected to chip in and help with the family’s survival. For instance, I recently received a letter and scrapbook about Fred Pecci, Bath’s former arborist. While his immigrant parents were running a produce store in Bath where Mario’s is today, Fred was out looking for free coal. There was a sharp turn in the railroad tracks where the coal cars would sometimes spill some of their load, and he was there to collect it. Sometimes he would throw a piece of coal at the fireman on the train engine, hoping that the man would throw more coal back. He would even go down to the coal pocket and climb inside the empty ships, looking for leftover coal in the holds.

Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at [email protected]

For food, he would sometimes walk to New Meadows Restaurant with a bucket and take home pieces of lobster that the cooks were throwing away. He did stunts for railroad passengers, hoping they would toss him pennies, or helped carry their luggage onto the ferry. As a teenager he drove the family truck to Georgetown and Phippsburg to sell produce. Imagine a kid doing any of that today.

Fred was born in 1911 and grew up in the house behind Mario’s in Bath, which is still owned by the Pecci family. His mother fed and housed the Italian workers who built the Carlton Bridge. Fred, who lacked a fear of heights, would often scale the bridge towers during construction. He would also climb to the tops of the buildings on Front Street and leap from one roof to another. At 15 he entered the burning Morse High School, went in search of the fire, and then helped a couple of other men rescue the school records. Perhaps it was this experience (and his fearlessness) that led him to join the Bath Fire Department, where he would eventually become assistant chief.

An inventive man, Fred built the “House of Hazards” to teach kids about fire safety in the home. It was a large dollhouse where each room could be set on fire at the flick of a switch. The fire could be put out with another switch. The fire department would bring the House of Hazards around to schools to show the children about all of the dangerous ways that fires can start in the home.

But Fred was better known for his work as Bath’s arborist, a job he held from 1948 until 1998. At first he wasn’t even paid for the work, until Dutch elm disease threatened all the magnificent elm trees in the city. He spent countless hours spraying the trees with DDT, until the government outlawed the chemical. Then the trees died and he was forced to cut down and chop up several thousand of them (for a time he was known as “Fungi Fred” after the fungus he was trying to combat). To help make up for the loss, Fred spent years planting hundreds of new trees in Bath, often on his own time, and at his own expense. The city would not be the same today without his efforts.

Fred almost hung himself the first time he chopped down a tree, and later suffered a broken neck and other injuries from various falls. But he was still cutting up fallen limbs and slinging a shovel into his 90s. He also knew the secret locations of the few walnut trees in Bath, and invented a device to shuck the nuts. For his unparalleled 50 years of service to the city, a tree was planted and a plaque was placed in his honor in front of the courthouse. Fred enjoyed many friends and lived almost a century in the City of Ships, passing away at 96 in 2008.

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