Allie Cole building christened at Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum

Karen Donato, Special to The County
5 years ago

LITTLETON, Maine — The A.J. Allie Cole building at the Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 19. 

Galen Cole, 94, of Cole’s Land Transportation Museum in Bangor, cut the ribbon for the building dedicated to his father, who was the first to mount snowplows on trucks to clear the road from Lincoln to Houlton in 1931. 

In 1981, permanent recognition was paid to Allie Cole by the Maine State Legislature in naming the special northbound Interstate 95 Medway turnoff scenic view in his memory. This area is near Route 2 at Silver Ridge where Cole encountered the highest challenge in snowplowing.

More than two dozen volunteers and staff from the Bangor Museum accompanied Cole to the event and were guests of a dinner following a tour of the Littleton complex. One of those guests was Barbara Swett, Cole’s secretary from 1953-93.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place at the Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum in Littleton on Saturday, Oct. 19, to officially open the A.J. Allie Cole Building in Littleton. Taking part are board members from left, Debbie Melvin, Jamey Watson, Francis Fitzpatrick, Galen Cole, Barry Campbell and Colby Shaw.
(Courtesy of Karen Donato)

Cole contributed $50,000 as seed money to begin the $150,000 project nearly two years ago, which was spearheaded by former museum president, Francis Fitzpatrick. Contributors to the project included: Rural Development, Maine Community Foundation, Goodrich Trust at Camden National Bank, Maine Humanities Council of Maine and private donors. Matt Bolstridge was the contractor, Ritchie Gogan did the earthwork and Eric Nelson provided the labor for the electrical work.

The building will display various types of snow removal equipment. Scotty Nevers of Oakfield has donated one highway truck and plow. He wants visitors to be able to climb up into the truck to experience the feel of how big of a machine it was to drive and operate on snowy highways.

Cole, 94, addressed the crowd and said of the occasion, “How can I not have a soft spot in my heart for this agricultural museum. After seeing what you have done here in 17 years. What you have collected and the work of your volunteers is remarkable.”

Galen Cole takes a look at the special cake made to celebrate the opening of the Cole Building in Littleton Oct. 19.
(Courtesy of Karen Donato)

He went on to say, “This is the greatest opportunity of my life, it is good to see all this happening.”

Cole is very appreciative of the family he was raised in and the example his father, Allie set for him and his brothers and sisters. From information recorded in the book, “The First 100 years of Coles Express and Museum” it is noted that because of the stock market crash in the 20s Cole did not have the money to pay his crew. One of those employees, George Hannigan, originally from Houlton, was working for Cole in Bangor and his mother was still living here in town. She was a faithful parishioner of St. Mary’s Church and shared the concern with her priest. The priest gave Cole a one-time loan to pay his crew, which was, the entire weekend’s cash offering. Allie promised to pay it back from company receipts by the following Thursday. I guess you could call it, “divine intervention”. Full payment was made as promised.

Allie Cole passed away in ‘55. Galen and his brothers, Gerald, Vaughn and Chesley continued to run the business. Galen was chosen as president of Cole’s Express and the shipping service expanded to the Canadian Provinces, Boston and New Hampshire. By 1980 they moved into Rhode Island. They now operated 13 terminals and grew to have more than 900 vehicles.

Betty Swett, left, joins her former boss, Galen Cole at the opening of the Cole Building in Littleton Oct. 19. Swett served as his secretary from 1953 until 1993.
(Courtesy of Karen Donato)

In the late 80s, Cole embarked on a mission to build a museum with admission free to children under 19. That dream became a reality in 1990 with the opening of the Cole Land Transportation Museum. It encompasses one full acre and the flooring underneath the vehicles includes 35,000 cobblestones from the rail yard in downtown Bangor where Maine Central Railroad operated. Others across the country donated 77 vehicles that were in good condition and that has increased now to 200. It houses the most complete collection of firetrucks in the state. It also includes construction and delivery vehicles. A potato truck from Littleton, once owned by Vernon and Olive McBride and a vintage 1960 Ski-Doo brought by Houlton’s Willie Lynds to his North Road Machine Shop and sold to the Qualey Family of Island Falls are also part of the collection.

Being a veteran himself, Cole also has an area with more than 200 artifacts and pictures inside and outside of the 5th Armored Division room. Outside the museum is the official State of Maine World War II Memorial. It has been on display since 1997 and since then other memorials have been erected in various parts of Bangor with the support of Cole. He has also donated more than 200 granite benches to towns and cities throughout the state located at or near a veteran’s memorial. Each is engraved with “Freedom Is Not Free” and “All Gave Some. Some Gave All.”

Taking a look at the newly erected sign on the Cole Building in Littleton is Galen Cole, right with Francis Fitzpatrick, former president of the Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum. Fitzpatrick spearheaded the building project to honor Cole’s late father, Allie.
(Courtesy of Karen Donato)

Cole was also instrumental in providing walking sticks to thousands of veterans. He worked a deal with Peavey Manufacturing which pledged 600 sticks and later 1,200 for Memorial Day in the late 1990s. This gift is still offered today, now totally more than 10,000. Cole supports a veteran’s interview program for students at the museum. Tens of thousands of youngsters have taken part in this program learning firsthand the experiences from those who served.

The Cole family has also contributed to the purchase of imaging cameras for fire departments and supported Reading Recovery, a program of special interest to the late Sue Cole, Galen’s wife. In 2015, over a 20 year period, the program was responsible for helping more than 100,000 Maine school children learn to read.

While serving in the U.S. Army Cole was wounded and five members of the squad were killed in 1945. Cole received a Purple Heart. He minimizes his injuries, but that experience left him with deep gratitude for surviving. He promised his God, after losing five buddies and the rest wounded that if he lived to come home from the war, he would commit to work and do the best to leave his community and his fellow man better than he found them.

Through his many acts of generosity since then, it is obvious he has done just that and more. Continuing even today.