Saturday, November 3, 2007

It's Great to Know that Lewes Still Includes Some of its Originals

I have sometimes wondered what my old neighbor John Ellsworth is up to lately. According to the News Journal this morning, John is now building a land-speed record style racer in an attempt to break the 200-mph barrier.

That's pretty cool. And it is in keeping with what I know of John. It also means that my town has not yet completely become just another retirement village for wealthy folks from up-state and elsewhere. We still have some of our uniqueness.

Back in the late 1980s, when Karen and I were first married, we rented a small apartment above the shop next door to John and Hope's place on West Third Street. John owns the town blacksmith shop, but has always done much more than smithing. He was one of the founders of Punkin Chunkin, but left that sport when it went from a collection of individually designed rotary-arm flingers, trebuchets and John's own truck-sized cross-bow style punkin shooter to a contest of ever more-powerful compressed-air cannons.
"You couldn't see the pumpkin flying," he said. "I didn't like that at all. The fun was watching the pumpkins, and with the air cannons, you can't see them. You don't see it go through the air. Just a big whoosh, and that's it."
I agree with him completely. While I still think Punkin Chunkin is cool, and I'm proud that my state is still its home, it lost its charm for me when the air cannons took over.

But throwing pumpkins was never all there was to John Ellsworth. He created marvelous ironwork gates, fences and other items for homes around the area. He ran a herd of small, hand-carved cattle in front of his shop. He had a cement plant there as well; stalks of rebar topped with cement-chunk foliage. In the spring, the cement plant bloomed with small, pretty, yellow cement trucks.

And one year, for the Lewes Christmas Parade, he created a giant, house-tall metal rocking horse for his wife, Hope, to ride down the parade route.

Now there's long, open wheel, lakester-style racer under construction on West Third. John has exceeded 100-mph and hopes to top 200 next year.
"If you ever wanted to put your right foot down and hold it down, it's a hoot," he said. "The parachute coming out was probably the neatest part. It wasn't a jerk of any kind. It was like 'Star Wars' when they came out of warp speed and everything just slows down. You can't tell when it was deployed or anything. You just all of a sudden felt a deceleration."
It's great to know that John is still finding new challenges and ways to have fun. He was a pleasant neighbor; always interesting, challenging, and inspiring.

I moved to Lewes in the mid 1980s in part because it was a real town, with wealthy and modest homes, with folks from different races, with working fisherfolk and factories and with a certain amount of hustle and bustle. And with originals.

Over the years, we've lost much of our diversity, but I'm thrilled to find we still have some of what makes our town special.

Floor it, John.


Anonymous said...


You can't mention John without a nod to Harry "Speedy" Lackhove as another of the Lewes "originals" (OK, Speed is a transplant, but more than makes up for it in eccentricity and genuine kindness. After all, John can make ANYTHING but the parts and pieces often come from Speedy's collection of interesting, useful and marginally safe stuff found around his boatyard.

Mike Mahaffie said...

That's a very good point. That I don't mention Mr. Lackhove is mostly due to ignorance on my part. I'm aware of his role in Punkin Chunkin via the media, but I have had no first-hand interaction with him, as I used to have with John.

One of the real drags about living in Lewes while working in Dover is that I spend much more of my days up there than down here.

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