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Luthier Todd Farnham of Tiverton RI

CRANKY YANKEE 24 Dec 01 - 09:44 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 24 Dec 01 - 09:58 PM
katlaughing 25 Dec 01 - 12:41 AM
Art Thieme 25 Dec 01 - 03:08 AM
GUEST,Bud 25 Dec 01 - 10:09 AM
CRANKY YANKEE 25 Dec 01 - 12:22 PM
GUEST 25 Dec 01 - 01:18 PM
JedMarum 25 Dec 01 - 11:08 PM
Big Mick 25 Dec 01 - 11:34 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 26 Dec 01 - 07:47 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 26 Dec 01 - 11:53 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 27 Dec 01 - 12:03 AM
katlaughing 27 Dec 01 - 12:06 AM
JedMarum 27 Dec 01 - 12:13 AM
CRANKY YANKEE 27 Dec 01 - 12:13 AM
JedMarum 27 Dec 01 - 12:15 AM
CRANKY YANKEE 29 Dec 01 - 10:46 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 30 Dec 01 - 02:39 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 30 Dec 01 - 02:43 PM
GUEST,Ray van sickler 22 Jan 11 - 09:00 PM
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Subject: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 24 Dec 01 - 09:44 PM

I met Todd Farnham through my Daughter Joyce Katzberg. She'd mention Todd every now and then and say something like, "You really should meet him, He's a very interesting person. He gave her a "Dobro" with a lat, spruce top that he made in 1929. So, I says to myself, "Self!, you've got to meet this guy who's so nice to my offspring" Joyce gave me his adress and I stopped off at his home in Tiverton, Rhode Island, one evening while I was on my way to a gig in Fall River, Mass. Tiverton is on the way to Fall River, just off Route 24. I'm familiar with Tiverton as I'm a memeber of the Tiverton Rod and Gun Club, where I shoot my flint-lock musket and WW II M-1 (Garand) rifle at paper targets as a competitive sport. Mika Seeger and Joe Bossom (her husband) also live in Tiverton.
Well, I damned near forgot about the gig when I met Todd and Millie Farnham.

Todd is a world class Luthier. He made guitars, mandolins, banjo's dulcimers,(mountain and hammer) and did great mother of pearl and abalone inlays.
Millie, his wife and he were also performers. Todd played guitar and "3 finger" (scruggs style) banjo, Millie played Dobro and mountain Dulcimer. I seem to recall that she also played autoharp and zither.
Todd and Millie were in their 90's when I met them. Oh yes, they both sang.
Todd has detached retinas and is almost blind. He gets around though, within his own house where he knows where everything is.
Needless to say, he hasn't made any instruments in some time. They used to live on Prudence Island, which is in Narragansett Bay about halfway between Newport and Providence.(and right next to "Patience" Island) I think Millie taught school on Prudence.
We became good friends, and I stopped off to see them every chance I got. Todd taught me some "Stuff" about guitars and banjos. Oh yes, he gave Nick Lucas his first Pick (it was a mandola plectrum) and lucas used it to become the first guy to flat pick a guitar. Cool,huh? I remember when I started playing guitar, we all used "Nick Lucas" picks. They were pretty much the best selling real tortois shell picks on the market. This was w a a y before the advent of the nylon picks. One either used a celluloid "imitation toroise shell" pick or a real tortoise shell pick. The still make celluloid picks. I don't know about genuine tortoise shell. The celuloid ones broke very easily (as they still do) while the shell ones lasted a while. You couldn't tell by looking at them which were celuloid and which were shell. So, we put them to the test. Do you know how to tell the difference? Put a match to it. Celluloid is Nitro-cullulose. If it smelled like burning hair and didn't burst into flame it was tortoise shell. When I was a kid (1930's) we used to make stink bombs by rolling up pieces of celluloid in newspaper, set it afire, and when the smoke got fast, furious and stinky, we'd stomp it out and run like hell. It would smolder, smoke and stink up a storm. This was great fun on Halloween (or Guy Fawks day) (Alright, I don't know how to spell) but I wouldn't suggest you do this trick nowadays.
But, I digress.

When I first met them, Millie was wheelchair bound and very crippled with rhumatoid arthritis, but, she was a darling old gal, and I became quite fond of them.
Todd used Holly, black walnut, Brazilian Rosewood and Honduras Mahogany for the back and sides of his guitars.
Millie took a turn for the worst and died about ten months ago. You know that line in Stan Rogers' "First Christmas"?

"When the Old Girl passed away
He fell apart more every day,

That pretty much describes how it hit Todd. But, He recovered and seemed to be doing alright for a while living by himself. Donna and I tried to get him to move in with us, but he wouldn't. He had to take care of his cat, and he had all his familiar furniture and stuff in his house in Tiverton. I drove out and got him one time so he could spend the day with us, and I got him to go to one of the picking parties we have in Fall River and once he came to "Billy Goode's" with me when I was playing there. He met another old timer at Billy Goodes named Arthur Ball who has his own story to tell. Next time I run into Arthur I'll interview him and do another thread about him. I play my "Bass Foodle" with Arthur every now and then.

Todd's neice came up from Florida to live with him and "do" for him. She just got her Masters and she put a lot of cheer back in His life,
Todd finally decided to move to Florida at the invitation of another niece, so he packed up all his stuff, and just before he left, He went rummaging around in his basement and came upstairs with the greatest banjo I've ever seen or heard. He said, "This "pot" was made by Fred Bacon, and I made the neck. It was the first thing I ever Made, when I was still an amateur on Prudence Island. I WANT YOU TO HAVE IT. I also made the case because I couldn't find one for a long neck banjo. (25 frets, 3 more than standard)
I was flabberghasted, and speechless. (somewhat unusual for me) Finally I managed to blurt out, "I don't know what to say".
"That's a first", says Todd, with a twinkle in his eye.
"I don't know how to thank you", I said, "This is the nicest present thing anyone's ever given me
"Just play it lot and think of me" he replied,"
And, give this to Donna" says Todd, pointing at a mountain Dulcimer, on his couch, IT WAS MILLIE'S"

I'm going to close for now before AOL throws me off Line

A very grateful Jody Gibson


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Subject: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 24 Dec 01 - 09:58 PM

Oh, you know the case for this extraordinary banjo? IT'S MADE OF BRAILLIAN ROSEWOOD COVERED WITH,GLOVE AND WALLET GRADE LEATHER

Jim Bennett, one of the worlds greatest banjo, guitar and mandolin players (and shamefully unherald') says this "one of a kind" banjo is the greatest he's ever heard.


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: katlaughing
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 12:41 AM

JODY, THANK YOU!!! I love to hear these stories!!


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: Art Thieme
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 03:08 AM

That IS a wonderful story. Thanks for telling us !!

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: GUEST,Bud
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 10:09 AM

I haven't heard Jody in a long time, but my children went to school with Joyce (his daughter)'s child. Jody sings sea chanteys, and he's one of the best.


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 12:22 PM

Thanks Bud, send me a P.M. with your adress, I'll send you a CD.


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 01:18 PM

Thanks Cranky...I was raised in Jamestown, R.I. and have been to Tiverton many times as a child...you bring back great memories and also that was a wonderful story..... Happy Holidays to all.....Frank of Toledo


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: JedMarum
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 11:08 PM

Well this thread is not only a wonderful story (thanks very much Cranky Yamkee) - but it's all about some of my favorite places.

I was born in Fall River (played there on a quick tour last Fall), have always loved Tiverton, used to fish on the old rail road bridge near the Stone Bridge, used stop for clams, lobsters or fish at the shops just passed the Old Stone Bridge Inn, swam at the town beach and fished off the old bridge. We stopped there for lunch this Fall and I see that old bridge is no longer accessable.

Jamestown is a beautiful place. My wife and I always stop there on our trips and have toyed with the idea of staying at the Jamestown Inn one of these days. I sailed out of Appanog a time or two with my friend Billy Dunlop who kept his boat there, when he was still around ... slept in Newport Harbor one night, on the Enchantress (Billy boat).

I spent a lot of time in Little Compton when I was a kid, on the beach at Goosewing and South Shore. I still go back to visit when I can, and the magic is still there ...

I have an album called the STREETS OF FALL RIVER ... with a few songs from my Fall River family experience. I've enjoyed reading some of its history ... and hope to be back there playing next Summer.

Where're you at, Cranky Yankee? Where do you play in Fall River?


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: Big Mick
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 11:34 PM

Jody......this is why I love to read your posts. I guess I don't have to tell you what a treasure you have in that instrument. Congratulations on being such a good friend to this gentleman. It speaks loudly as to what you are made of.

All the best,

Mick


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 26 Dec 01 - 07:47 PM

JED MARUM & BIG MICK & GUEST fRANK of Toledo.



First Frank, "Saturday Night in Toledo Ohio" sounds to me that John Denver bombed in toledo and wrote that song for the same reason that Aesop's fox said, "Those grapes were sour, anyway". Sort of like a batter ridiculing the Pitcher who struck him out. (translation, for Britts and Aussies) Like a batsman ridiculing the bowler who just took the wicket.

JED AND MICK:
There's a young folksinger-guitarist named Michael Troy who's from Fall River, Mass. His guitar playing is really good, and he's a captivating singer. All his stuff is original. One of the songs on his CD is about (guess who)Fall River's Lizzie Borden. I'll ask him if it's alright to copy his CD and I'll send you both one. There's some good stuff on it. The CD is named "Whispers in the Wind"
I've done a couple of gigs at "Common Fence Point" and lately at Rennaisance Gallery, which was in an ld mill building. The mill was bought and they were thrown out but they moved their "stuff" and clientelle to another old mill which is near the Battleship, USS Massachusetts.

This banjo is so good sounding (Fred Bacon knew his stuff) that I've quit using my Gibson Mastertone. In fact, I lent it to someone who wants to learn banjo/ The "pot" on Todd's Banjo, the wooden inside, that is, is made from a SINGLE 1/2 " PIECE OF HONDURAS MAHOGONY, HEAT BENT INTO A PERFECT CIRCLE. yOU HAVE TO USE A MAGNIFYING GLASS TO FIND THE SCARF JOINT WHERE IT'S GLUED TOGETHER.
I used to have a bacon banjo that he made when he still lived in Harford. Inide it says "F.J. Bacon Hartford Conn, 168" Well to make a short story longer, I found a "B and D (Bacon and Day) Silver Bell", supposed to be the finest banjo's ever made, in Holyoke Mass when I was Chief Air Traffic Controller at Westover AFB, in 1954, for $75.00. It was a tennor banjo, so I wrote to the "Vega" company which makes an excellent banjo called "Little Wonder" It has pretty much the same wooden center dowel center that attaches the neck to the Pot, and, asked if they wwould make me a 5 string neck to fit the silver bell. They replied, "of course we will" and they did. It fit perfectly. So, I sold the old #168" to an Air Force friend who was being transferred to California. Lo and behold, a few years ago, I ran into a woman here in Newport who'd just moved here from Riverside, Cal. and she showed me "This wonderful banjo I found in a hock shop in Los Angeles. INSIDE, ON THE DOWEL, IT SAID "F.J. BACON, HARTFORD, CON. #168" sMALL WORLD, hUH??

A few years ago, having temporarily fallen on hard times, I pawned my" Silver Bell" in Providence, and when I went back to redeam it, not knowing that in Rhode Island a Pawn Broker only has to keep a pawned object 4 months (instead of the usual 6 in the rest of the country) it was 5 months later, and he'd just sold it. Oh Well. This was just about the time that Plastic banjo and drum heads came onto the market, and, I often wondered what a Bacon banjo would sound like with a plastic head (big improvement over calfskin) Now I know, Todd had replaced the calfskin head with a "Weather King" and it sounds fantastic. For th ose of you who are wondering how something "plastic" can be superior to somethiong "natural", here's how. Calfskin banjo and drum heads were unbelievably expensive if you wanted a good one. The Rogers 3 Star head (which was very difficult to find) was made from a calf that had gotten all scarred up wandering through the bushes, and as scarred skin is much stronger than clean, smooth skin, it could be shaved down to be considerably thinner than the Rogers "Superba" In todays marketplace, with prices adjusted to the rate of inflation, A 3 Star head woiuld cost about $250.00 and the Superba head about $150.00. The weather king which is a more even thickness throughout, and not affected by weather, costs about $20.00. We used to spend about half the time on stage re-tuning the banjos with the old calfskin heads, and if it was raining, FORGET IT, The calfskin heads became like a piece of rubber, and if you tried to stretch it tighter, to compensate, when it dried out, it split, and you were out another $150.00 to $250.00.

Donna just told me that Todd had "Macular Degeneration" not detached retinas. which is much worse.

I'm going to call Todd as soon as I hang up here. Oh, yes, He was a policeman on Prudence Island for about 25 years. Nowadays, there are more White Tailed Deer on Patience and Prudence than there are people and almost everyone knows someone who has Lyme disease. I don't think Todd has.

Anyway, to answer you're other question, I'm still living in Newport.
My newest CD has 20 tracks on it, it's antitled, "Spanning the Decades" and includes all my old singles from the '50's and early 60's(TETRA in 1957 and Parlophone, produced by George Martin just before the Beatles in 1959 and 1960) (Parlophone's USA affiliate is Capitol) The CD costs $16,50, (shipping in N. America included) (not $14,99 + $2.99 for shipping and handling) From, ROSE ISLAND MUSIC, 36 Charles St. Newport, RI 02840. No credit cards, please.

(that's funny, this is my adress also)

Jody Gibson.


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Subject: World class luthier Todd Farnham
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 26 Dec 01 - 11:53 PM

I hope this generates a little more interest in what I know of this great old man, guitar, banjo, mandolin Dobro and Dulcimer (hammer and mountain) maker born in 1911, now in a nursing home in Miami Florida. and near death. see thread entitled, TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton Rhode Island.


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 27 Dec 01 - 12:03 AM

Hey, Big Mick, I KNOW YOU. I just saw your photo in the mudcat gallery. How have you been?

I just got off the phone with Todd's neice, Ruth. I'm sorry to say that he's taken a turn for the worst and is tired of living without Millie. He's stopped eating, is in considerable pain and wants to be with Millie, his wife of some 60 years. If I had the dough I'd fly down to see him one last time, 3 days driving a car is a bit more than this old fart can take.

regards, Jody Gibson


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Subject: RE: World class luthier Todd Farnham
From: katlaughing
Date: 27 Dec 01 - 12:06 AM

Jody, I think a lot of people are on holiday, so don't lose heart. I am sure there will be more interest. It probably would have been better to have refreshed the other thread, but here is a link to your wonderful story in it, anyway: Todd Farnhman of Tiverton.

I am very sorry to hear that he is near death. He obviously has been a wonderful person and an important craftsman in the music tradition. I will always be grateful to have known about him through your stories and only regret I never got to meet him.

kat


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Subject: RE: World class luthier Todd Farnham
From: JedMarum
Date: 27 Dec 01 - 12:13 AM

... and a great story you told, too in the previous thread CRANKY YANKEE!


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 27 Dec 01 - 12:13 AM

of interest to Jed Marum and Big Mick, I've gotten permission to post Michael Troy's "Lizzie Borden" See thread entitled, "Lizzie Borden"


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: JedMarum
Date: 27 Dec 01 - 12:15 AM

Thanks Yankee. I will dropping off a letter/package to you in the post tomorrow. My returnr address will be included. I hope to meet up with you on one of my trips back that way, if we can sync our calendars. 'til then - all the best.


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 29 Dec 01 - 10:46 PM

I have some very bad news to relate. Donna, (MaFazoo) my beloved spouse, telephoned Todd's house in F;orida, and talked to Todd's Neice, Ruth. Todd has taken anothe turn for the worse, his weight is down to 114lb (8 stone 10), he stopped eating, says he doesn't want to live without Millie and is showing signs of senile dememntia, getting lost, and other symptoms that indicate he has given up. He is 90.5 years old, and surrounded by people he doesns't know, except for Ruth..

I NEED A COUPLE OF FAST SINGINMG GIGS TO FINANCE AN AIRPLANE TICKET TO MIAMI FLORIDA. I'll charge $125.00 per 4 hour gig. Plus traveling expenses.
I sing and/or play whatever kind of music the audience seems to prefer. I have a repertoir of about 1500 songs of every description,
I filled up a rolodex with song titles, and had to keep taking old ones out to make room for recent "personal favorites" which are not usually recently written songs. I've got a more complete list in two file boxes.

According to Barclay Warburton III, former owner of both the Brig "Black Pearl" and the Black Pearl Tavern, (and sadly, now deceased) My solo, 6 night a week, gigs for the first yearof the , now famous, Black Pearl Tavern put said establishment on the map. I was joined by Roger Sprung (the banjo-wizz)with whom I've been working on and off since we were kids, for the next four years. I learned to sail , rig and command sailing crews on the brig Black Pearl (actually a hermaphrodite brig, or half brig)under Capt Warburton, first as a foretopman, then boatswain and after acquiring enough experience, both Boatswain and Chanteyman. A chanteman is more than just a singer of maritime songs Everything I learned about sailing came from Capt Warburton, with the exceptipon of certain refinements I've made to sthe rigging and sailing of ships. I'm the only person in history to single hand a full rigged sailing ship as a general matter of course

nmore about my performing after this "br>
I've got to go to Miami to see if I can jog Todd back from where he seems to be heading. If Todd's demise is God's Will, I don't want my friend to die among strangers, if Ruth is working, we can sit around the nursing home and swap songs, stories and lies.

I may have a place to stqay, with my cousin, if he lives anywhere near the nursing home . I could have sailed with "HMS" Rose as Boatswain and Chanteyman on their way to the W. Coast of Mexico where they are making a movie. SThey are leaving Newport Jan 15 but, the closest they'l come to Floriida is 800 N.Miles. I like Airplanes as much as do Sailing (I was an Air Traffic Controller in the U.S.A.F. for 15.5 years) Back to my Performance qualifications. I was the first person to record "Rockabilly", according to Bill Flagg, the guy who invented the word. We recorded for the same lable, (TETRA) in 1956 and 57. My "Good Morning Captain" (actually my way of singing Muleskinner Blues) was only released in New England, (RI,CT, MA,NH AND VT) New York and New Jersey and sold 400,000+. It helped that "Alan Freed' was my Manager's father-in-Law. As a consequence, the record got a lot of playon R&R and pop stations. it made all the juke boxes inthe area, and I did it Live on the Tonight Show on Armed Forces Day 1957. It was covered by Sheb Wooley and later by Dolly Parton.

I'm going to close this post and start a new one because AOL has a nasty habit of thrwing people off line without any warning.


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 30 Dec 01 - 02:39 PM

I fell asleep in the middle of what I wanted to say, following this last post, and decided I had to get some sleep after a very wearying day of writing, trying to ballance the names , "Elenore, karlina, edith Bailey", thusly: ELENORE
KARLINA
EDITH
BAILEY

You Mudcatters are a very welcome addiction in my cluttered life. and It's hard to ignore "The call of the Mudcat"

sThat's why I fell asleep at the computer.

Now I continue with my performance qualifications.

We used to have a tadition, in Newport, of New Years Eve, family oriented. non alcoholic performances by local people, (like Paul Geremia, Leroy White, Jim McGRath, Ed Girly, Jon Campbell, me, etc.) at different venues throughout the city, and finishing with a fireworks display at 10.00pm. My 8:00 to 10:00 gig, at the Seamen's Church Institute, has been Standing Room only for the past several years, ith people lined up outside. They tell me that some of them come from other areas of the country, specifically for my bit.

This could have paid for my airplane ticket, but the Newport Cultural Commission cancelled this year's, " Opening Night"

I need a gig or two within the next week to get me to Miami. I give you my word, my performance is worth the price. I play Guitar,(without a capo)Banjo, (with a capo, but who doesn't?) mandolin, Steel guitar, Bass and a little fiddle. I also have the background and harmony tracks from my CD's that were recorded at ROSE ISLAND MUSIC (located in my attic) on which all the instruments and voicxes are me, and with which I sing and/or play along with. There are, in addition, twobackground and harmony tracks that were pieced together, using the instrumental breaks repeatedly, for bacikground. One of them, a TETRA recording from 1957, on which I played the banjo instrumental break, anyway,. entitled "2i years" which was overloaded with "echo" which interfered with the singing , was intrusive, made it sound sour, and was a poorly written version of "Worried Man Blues". The background track, pieced together from the banjo break, allowed me to redo the lead singing track, using the traditional lyrics. The new vocal track cured the problem. Also, My Parlophone recording of San Antonio Rose, of which I only had the tape I'd sent to my parents, in 1960, had been accidentally erased up to the first middle eight. So I, again, pieced together a lead in and background for the first 16 bars, from the guitar instrumental break. This worked even better than "Worried Man Blues". I can't find the "punch ins" even though I know where they are.

I don't like this "beating my own Drum" bit, but there is no other way, and this is an emergency.

A Demo CD which will include all of my last CD, "Spanning the Decades, 1957-2000" plus the aforementioned backgound tracks, without lead singing. is available upon request. The recent ROSE ISLAND recordings include, Farewell to Tarwaithe, Heave away Johnny, All for me Grog, Paddy lay back, all traditional, maritime. Keep on Fishin', Fredericks of galilee, Foxwood Polka and The Providence Waltz, written by Jon Campbell (or Rhode Island). and The D Day Dodgers written by Lt Hamish Henderson of the 51st Highland Brigade (WW II.) All instruments and all voices are by Jody Gibson. Paddy lay Back, has imitations of Popeye, Porky Pig, Capt. Herb Spinney and Capt Barclay Warburton III in the semi-sober "Mob of Sailors" singing the chorus.

PLEASE reply here in the Mudcat P.M.'s or by regular mail to Jody Gibson, 36 Charles St. Newport, RI 02840. Also CRANKYYANKEEJG@AOL.com.


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Subject: EMERGENCY re: Todd Farnham of Tiverton
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 30 Dec 01 - 02:43 PM

See posts 14 and 15 of thread, "TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton Rhode Island.


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Subject: RE: TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI
From: GUEST,Ray van sickler
Date: 22 Jan 11 - 09:00 PM

My wife and I had the privilege of knowing Millie and Todd for the two years I was Officer in Charge of the Naval Ammunition Facility on Prudence. We became good friends and had many great visits. Todd was the island sheriff at the time.When the deep winter snows usually arrived Todd would help us out by hitching up a couple of his horses up to a beautiful old sleigh and take our daughter to the PI school where there were only two children enrolled at that time. We subsequently lost contact with them as I moved to other duty stations. They bot lived very interesting and productive lives....we really missed them.

Be a and Ray Van Sickler


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