Kirby Littlefield worked for the company now called Maine Water for 56 years before retiring from operating the brick treatment plant on the banks of the Saco River last month. His dedication was marked on June 28, when coworkers gathered to dedicate the training room in the new facility, across South Street from the old one, in his honor. He is shown here with his wife Annette. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — On May 12, 1966, Kirby Littlefield walked into the Biddeford & Saco Water Co. treatment plant on South Street to start a part-time job. A few weeks later, he graduated from Biddeford High School.

And 56 years later, on May 12, Littlefield retired from Maine Water, which bought the utility a decade ago, and he bade goodbye to his fellow employees and the 1884 plant and its quirks he knows so well.

“He’s an absolute class act,” said Michael Cummons, director of service delivery for Maine Water, which began operating its new, $60 million digital treatment facility in new digs on high ground across South Street, at 16 Waterworks Drive, about two weeks ago.

Former coworkers and others stopped by on Tuesday, June 28, to wish Littlefield and his wife Annette, well. The gathering itself was not a surprise to the Littlefield’s, but the stack of framed letters from an array of dignitaries, and cameras and questions from the area press corps was unexpected.

He had stories to tell — like about the flood that beset the facility back in 1987.

“We parked near the generator and got into a boat and rowed into the plant,” Littlefield said — and kept the facility operating throughout the mishap.


Littlefield, 74, said he lugged a lot of 50-pound bags of lime in his days at Saco & Biddeford Water Co. His part-time employment morphed into a full-time gig in the fall of 1966. A year later, he became a plant operator, learning everything about assuring that residents of Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, and the Pine Point section of Scarborough, not only had safe drinking water from the Saco River but also fire protection.

There was coffee – and stories – when Maine Water friends gathered to mark longtime operator Kirby Littlefield’s retirement on a recent day. Left to right are Annette Littlefield, Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, Litttlefield, and Maine Water director of service delivery Michael Cummons. Tammy Wells Photo

What he doesn’t know about the plant on the river probably isn’t worth knowing.

Littlefield was planning to retire in January 2013, “and I got my arm twisted,” he said, as company officials urged — begged— him to stay on, those affiliated with the company said. “There was a lot going on” at the old plant, and, grinning, he said “they got a silo, so I didn’t have to carry lime.”

Littlefield said he enjoyed his job and found the science involved interesting.

While Maine Water has dedicated employees, Cummons said Littlefield stands out.

“There will never be another employee like Kirby,” he said.


He was the go-to guy, who could be depended upon to keep the plant operating and find solutions as problems arose, as they tend to do in a facility of its age. It was built when Chester Alan Arthur was president and last updated  in the 1930s — the date 1936 is engraved in concrete on the old building — when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant delivered a framed letter of thanks.

“Your length of service is amazing, but more importantly, the expertise and knowledge that you exhibited over the years was a huge resource to the water company and its employees,” the letter reads, in part. “You were the backbone of the delivery of clean water to all of us, and for that, we thank you.”

There were many other expressions of appreciation, from Gov. Janet Mills, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King and from the Maine Legislature.

Framed letters of thanks, like this one from Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, spoke to the dedication of Kirby Littlefield, who operated the water treatment plant on the banks of the Saco River for 56 years. Tammy Wells Photo

Littlefield knows the old plant so well, its quirks, and how to fix them, that a sign inside bears the letters WWKD — which stand for ‘what would Kirby do?”

In his early days, work was six days a week, and he earned about $2.25 an hour, he recalled. Over time the work week was reduced to five days — and the pay scale improved.


“I thought about leaving a couple of times,” he said, when asked, but he stuck with it.

These days, Kirby and Annette are taking it easy. He still wakes up early, but isn’t heading to the plant at 4 or 4:30 a.m. — or earlier.

Maine Water employee Kirk Ladakakos recalled one morning he had a work truck that overflowed a bit so he headed to the plant around 3 a.m. — and Kirby was there.

“(Kirby) was the one you would turn to in the whole facility,” said Cummons, noting there are many nuances to operating the old brick water treatment plant.

There was another expression of appreciation for Littlefield’s long years of dedication — the training room in the new plant has been named The Littlefield Room, dedicated to Kirby and his 56 years of service.

Now, a month into retirement, life, he said is quieter.

“I like it,” said Annette, of her husband being around more. “We get to do more things together.”

Things like drives in their new  Jeep — with dogs Reba, a labradoodle, and Lexie, a Labrador retriever, said Littlefield.

“We’ll do some less travelled roads,” he said.

Comments are not available on this story.