Irish nurses recruited for New England hospitals


BOSTON (UPI) – Faced with a nursing shortage and no relief in sight, New England hospitals are looking for nurses in Ireland, where there is a surplus of trained medical personnel.

“There are so many Irish nurses going abroad to work, they are leaving by the thousands,” said Maria Dolan, 30, a Dublin native now working at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. “At the moment, the job situation in Ireland is very bad and the job situation around the globe is very good.”

“There are some very attractive offers.”

Maine’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center in Portland, recently hired 20 registered nurses in Ireland and is making arrangements to get them settled, said hospital vice president Ron Baril.

The hospital recently shut down several beds because of the shortage. Baril said the nursing vacancy rate nationally has doubled since 1985, to about 14 percent of registered nurses.

The Maine hospital has been recruiting around the nation for help, and not long ago began looking overseas.

Dolan said newspapers in Ireland are filled with ads from New York and Boston hospitals. Some offer incentives to nurses like free plane flights or lodging for a month.

The Nurses are allowed into the United States on temporary visas. They can work from one to three years, and after that time they can re-apply if the need still exists.


The man who married Norma Jean

I never thought that a move to Maine from Boston would lead to me writing about Marilyn Monroe. But in 1990, not long before I left my second tour with UPI, I heard that Marilyn Monroe’s first husband was living in Sabattus, not far from Lewiston. I found him, got in touch, and he was very friendly and willing to talk. Here is the story that resulted.


SABATTUS, Maine (UPI) – Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller may remember Marilyn Monroe, but James Dougherty thinks back to a schoolgirl named Norma Jean, who ended their marriage to become an actress, sex symbol and national obsession.

In 1943, the woman who was to become the nation’s favorite blonde bombshell was still Norma Jean Mortensen. She married Dougherty – her first husband – in their home town of Van Nuys, Calif.

He was 21. She had just turned 16.

“I never knew Marilyn Monroe and I don’t claim to have any insights about her to this day,” Dougherty said. “I knew and loved Norma Jean.”

A former Los Angeles police officer, Dougherty, 68, retired to Maine 11 years ago. He is married to his third wife, Rita, a Maine native.

His relationship with Norma Jean began casually. She attended Van Nuys High School and he sometimes walked her home after class.

“I had graduated from high school and I was working at Lockheed,” he said. “The war hadn’t started yet. Norma Jean was going to high school and I was taking her home, but I was going with a girl up at Santa Barbara High School, going up there on weekends.”

Norma Jean was 15 at the time, living with a foster family in Van Nuys because her mother had been committed to a mental institution. Her foster mother was a good friend of Dougherty’s mother. The two mothers began talking about a marriage between Dougherty and Norma Jean when the foster family began thinking about moving to another state.


Jim Dougherty and Norma Jean Mortensen on their wedding day

“They wanted to move back to Virginia, and they couldn’t take Norma Jean,” Dougherty said. “She would have gone back to an orphanage or another foster home, so her foster mother suggested I marry her.”

“I thought she was awful young, but I took her to a dance. She was a pretty mature girl, and physically she was mature, of course. We talked and we got on pretty good.”

Dougherty continued to see Norma Jean for the next year, giving up on the girl in Santa Barbara. A year later, the two were married.

The young couple lived in a Sherman Oaks apartment for a while and then moved back to Van Nuys, . I World War II, Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine and was assigned to teach sea safety on Catalina Island, off the California coast.

“She (Norma Jean) was just a housewife,” Dougherty said. “We would go down to the beach on weekends, and have luaus on Saturday night. She loved it over there. It was like being on a honeymoon for a year.”

Then Dougherty was sent overseas. Norma Jean got a job and moved in with Dougherty’s mother in Van Nuys.

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In the 70s, shortages were in the news

Many people remember the gasoline shortages of the 1970s, but not everyone may remember the other shortages during those years, at least some of which were traceable to the petroleum shortage. Not enough petrol meant rising gas prices and correspondingly higher prices on everything from food to manufactured goods. Anytime a “shortage” surfaced it was worth writing about. But who could have predicted a shortage of canning jars?



BANGOR, Maine (UPI) – And now, inflation fans, comes the Great Can Shortage.

If you thrilled to your chilly, oil-less house last winter, if you shuddered with excitement while waiting in line at your neighborhood gas station last spring, and if you quivered when meat prices went out of sight last summer, you’re just going to scream with pleasure when you try to put up those green beans from the garden this fall.

Walt Haueisen, , New England distributor for Ball Brothers Co., canning supply manufacturers, says there’s an acute shortage of canning jars this year, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, in Maine and elsewhere.

Sound familiar?

Haueisen said the company, one of the nation’s largest, had to put strict allocations on production a year ago because of shortages in the tin plate industry.  And because the rising cost of food caused many people to plant gardens this year, the demand for canning jars has sharply increased.

“The garden upsurge in the past several years has greatly increased demand,” said another spokesman for Ball Brothers, Vern Schranz. “There are people gardening and canning now who wouldn’t have dreamed of it before.”

There are other reasons for the shortage. Soda ash, used in manufacturing the glass jars, is now used by soap companies because they can no longer use phosphates. And commercial production of the jars gets priority over the manufacture of jars for home use.

ball jar picJars can be used year after year. But the glass rings and rubber seal rings must be replaced each time they are used, and guess what Ball Brothers has coming out of their ears?

“Right now we have more jars than lids,” Haueisen said. We sent a limited supply up to Maine Monday. Priorities there are based on the amount purchased in past seasons.”

“No state has delivery priorities but you will find many more vegetable gardeners in Maine than, say, Massachusetts,” he said.

Retailers in Maine have reported that they sell out of the canning jars hours after they arrive. And the price has gone up from around $1.50 to as high as 42.75.

The alternative to canning is freezing, but many people don’t own freezers. And besides, there have been reports of shortages of freezer bags this year.

“The only real alternative to canning is freezing, but several stores have even reported slight shortages of freezer bags,” said Mary Ellen Cunningham, home economics extension agent for Penobscot County. ”Also, if a family has no freezer, there is that expensive initial purchase.”

The result of all of this is that some of the vegetables planted in home gardens this spring will either be eaten fresh or left unharvested.

“If I can’t find jars and lids,” said one Maine gardener, “I’ll have to start giving my crops away.”


Floating across the Atlantic

As I’ve said, Maine was very fertile ground for strange and unusual stories (and strange and unusual people, as well). But no story was stranger than when Richard Branson came to a Maine ski lodge to begin a transatlantic flight to Europe in a hot air balloon.  Branson’s balloon lifted off at a little after 4 in the morning and, even though the clipping indicates that this happened in July, I remember being pretty cold as we all huddled in the pre-dawn darkness on a mountain at the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett in 1987. We all thought the balloon may have been doomed when two large propane tanks clattered to the ground just as the balloon lifted off.  Branson’s adventure was successful, and this story (and others) appeared in newspapers across the country.



CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (UPI) – The Virgin Atlantic Flyer, shoved along by the jet stream, soared past the old distance record for hot air balloons Thursday, just nine hours after lifting off from a Maine ski resort on a first-ever transatlantic trip to Europe.

The huge black-and-silver balloon carried its two British pilots, Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand, past the old record at around 27,000 feet, an altitude that allowed the balloon to take advantage of the jet stream while avoiding bad weather at lower altitudes.

A spokesman for the ground crew back in Maine said the balloon had been sailing along at 100 miles per hour or more since takeoff. The old distance record of 907 miles was surpassed in around nine hours, 18 hours less than the time necessary to set the old record.

ImageBut neither Branson nor Linstrand appeared too interested in the new distance record which they set just after 1 p.m., nine hours after the balloon left the ground at 4:15 a.m.

“There is a lot of ocean out there, the machine is complex, the weather forecasts are complex, and a lot of things can go wrong,” said Bob Rice, the project’s meteorologist. “They want to fly 3,000 miles, so 900 miles doesn’t mean that much.”

Branson told the ground crew by radio the flight was going smoothly, but said he was frightened at one point when he spotted a vapor trail near the capsule.

“When we arrived at 27,000 feet we hit very cold weather,” Branson said. “There was an enormous cloud behind us that created a massive vapor trail, and for a moment I thought the balloon was on fire.”

It wasn’t the only frightening moment for the two balloonists. As the giant silver-and-black balloon lifted off , two of the 12 large propane fuel tanks surrounding the pressurized capsule fell off and a cluster of sandbags failed to let go as planned.

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Magazine writing: My barn-find Harley


When I found this old Harley-Davidson in a barn, I thought it would make a great story for one of the motorcycle magazines. I wrote this story and shipped it off and was surprised when it was rejected. I sent it to a couple of other magazines and they rejected it, too. I soon figured out why: Motorcycle magazines love “before and after” stories. They want to see the old unrestored bike, and then they want to see the bike all done over and like-new. I thought the fact the bike was still in the barn somewhere was interesting, but I guess the editors didn’t agree. The lesson: Stick to the formula, no matter how tired and hackneyed it may be.

Editors note: I just found an old photo of the bike, which I have inserted (12/01/2014).

I found it in a barn



You’ve seen it a million times. You page through your favorite motorcycle magazine and come to a dazzling spread on a beautiful antique Harley, restored and polished to perfection.  The story always says something like:

“This fine-looking 1948 Panhead has been carefully restored to better-than-new condition. Before the restoration, the only thing left of the original was a valve stem cap and a half-pint of gear oil.”

And then comes the worst part:

“The Panhead was found in an old barn.”

There are a lot of old barns in New England and I’ve looked through plenty of them, but I’ve never found an old motorcycle. Never an Indian, never an old Knucklehead, never even some interesting old parts. Nothing.

Nothing, that is, until two summers ago.

image002I was at a party at a house out in the country, about 50 miles from home. I was making small talk with the host, standing around in the front yard, when he brought up my favorite subject.

“You’ve got a Harley, right?” he asked. Then he nodded toward the barn that was hidden behind some pines a hundred yards away. “You know, I’m glad you’re here, because you might be able to tell me what I got out there in the barn.”

Oh, boy, I thought, maybe this is the big one. An old Harley, buried up to its passing lights in hay, complete and waiting for a little polish and some fresh gas. It was hard to keep from running ahead of the guy, but I wanted to act nonchalant.

It was dark in the barn and it took a bit for my eyes to adjust.

“It’s over here,” the guy said, squeezing himself past an old pickup that was parked near the door.

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