Ask around the Talbot County waterfront for a man named Daniel Clayton Daffin and people will probably look at you like you have a third eye in the middle of your forehead.
But ask for Dink and instant recognition will flow across their faces. They will probably tell you to check for his brown truck at the fire hall in St. Michaels, or at his marine services business out along Rt. 33 toward Tilghman.
If all else fails, they will probably direct you to one of the local breakfast joints or at the corner position on one of the bars where he holds court on a regular basis. Used to be Eric’s steak and crab house on the harbor in St. Michaels was the best bet. Nowadays it’s C-Street on the town’s main drag where Dink’s as reliable as owner Johnny Mautz and Shameless Women t-shirts.
Time goes by so fast, it doesn’t seem long ago that Cindy Hicks won a contest at C-Street for a slogan to go along with a logo for Daffin Marine. The logo features a drawing by regionally famous editorial cartoonist Kollinger of three men headed toward a boat ramp, their loose pants sagging, their butt cracks winking, one of them carrying an outboard motor hoisted on his shoulder.
Cindy’s winning slogan? “When your boat’s lackin’, we get crackin’ . . .”
In fact, C-Street – officially known as Carpenter Street Saloon – is where Dink was one day this past week when friends, relatives, long-time customers and hangers-on looking for another excuse for a convivial drink gathered to celebrate the May 31 sale of Daffin Marine business and his quasi-retirement.
Quasi because Dink’s working for Josh Richardson, one of his former employees, on a part-time basis. “Now I get to work when I want to,” he said.
During an interview with Dink last week at what is now being called Richardson’s Marine Repair, Josh said buying the business wasn’t a tough decision for him. “It’s a good business,” he said. “I’m surrounded by the knowledge of all these people here, long-time employees. I just want to keep it going.”
Dink sat perched on a stool behind the counter, in front of his computer, another one of his comfort zones. “Trying to figure out all these parts,” he said, surrounded by shelves groaning with greasy cardboard boxes and metal and plastic and wired items needed for keeping boats, engines and trailers in good working order. It’s what he’s been doing at the Route 33 location for 31 years and for a couple decades before that when he hung around his father who had a small engine repair business in St. Michaels. “He went by Dink too.”
Dink was 14 when his father died of cancer. He carried on his father’s nickname. By then he was already doing what a lot of young Talbot County men did in those days: anything to make a dollar.
“I’ve always been around the water, have had a boat slip in the St. Michaels harbor since I was a little boy. Oystering, crabbing. Sold my crabs to Big Daddy Wilson. He was a local buyer. Crabbed when I wasn’t doing other jobs. Oyster season, I didn’t like that. Hunting season was a lot easier, guiding, taking hunting parties for some of the outfitters. When I was 13 I started shoveling oysters from the dock into trucks. That made for some big boys but there was no time for sports.. I made good money oystering. Tonging. I remember when three of us could catch 75 bushels of oysters in an hour. Made $5 a bushel. It took longer to load them than it did to catch them. That’s before it got all sissified. Electric winders and dredges and everything.”
A summer rhythm developed for Dink. He would crab on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and on weekends he would take to his boat or van and answer calls for broken-down boaters in need of help. It all worked for him. Dink likes to be around people, likes to laugh and likes to be helpful. He found that his knowledge and knack for figuring out and fixing marine problems kept him in high demand.
Sagging pants and all, he would take to his truck or mobile van or his boat, with his tool box and a head full of knowledge, and help people as well as he could. “People are so thankful – most of the time – and it’s how I made most of my money. Miles River, Wye River, Eastern Bay, boat ramps and landings. I didn’t need to hear what people thought the problem was. Most people who buy boats don’t know much about them. Most boats are just dock trophies. One of my favorite sayings is ‘investigate before you speculate.’
“I learned a lot at a new vo-tech school they started in Easton. Went there in eighth grade and was the first graduate of a two-year program. They taught me a lot about engines. I also figured out I didn’t want to work on lawn mowers. I wanted to stay with marine. Most of it’s just about maintenance. Do one, two and three and your boat will stay in good order. When I fix someone’s boat, I don’t want to see them them coming back. Maintenance.”
His mechanical know-how has also made Dink a valuable member of the St. Michaels Fire Department. Again following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the department when he was 16 and now can boast 40 years of active service, ten of those as an Emergency Medical Technician.
What;’s the allure of the fire department? “Half the fun is getting there. I’ve done a lot of driving, including on an old 15-speed tanker truck. Most people don’t know how to drive stick shifts with all those gears. I had to learn by watching old man Hinkle. He wasn’t going to teach nobody. I figured out that you shift by watching the rpms. Don’t use the clutch except for getting started and slowing down.”
In between that Dink has gigged bullfrogs – “got bit by a tick and developed Lyme disease while doing that” – and figured out that he really enjoyed taking goose hunting parties for Dan Murphy and Capt. Jimmy Spurry. He got his captain’s license too in the 1980s and took out fishing and hunting parties on boats with Capt. Tom Henry. “I liked the hunting parties better. Too many drunks among the fishing parties. I like to fish and I like to drink, but not at the same time.”
Dink says he got real in the marine services business in 1992, not long after taking on a Volvo franchise and partnering with Harry “Bumper” Hause to open the Route 33 operation. “Buck Duncan at the St. Michael’s Bank believed in us and helped us get started, Then Bumper’s health failed and I went on by myself.”
At 66, Dink figures it’s time now to move on. “I’ll keep on with the fire department. Stir the pot there, help keep the young ones straight. The marine business has been pretty good. I’ve made a good living.”
Dennis Forney has been a publisher, journalist and columnist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972. He writes from his home on Grace Creek in Bozman.