MONMOUTH — Phil Pratt was in Portland when his son called. Those three huge maple trees, the ones Pratt had been eying for years, had finally come down, blown over by a storm that seemed to crash down on Pratt’s South Monmouth Road property and then disappear.

The trees had narrowly missed his house, but the news was not all good. They had landed on four vehicles, one of which was still loaded with antiques Pratt’s son had collected as a donation that morning.

Even as Pratt was processing the news, his mind raced back three weeks to the fire that leveled his shop, taking with it nearly $200,000 in equipment and a lifetime of memories and work worth a whole lot more than that. None of it was insured, meaning Pratt, at 74, is trying to figure out how to start over.

“I don’t know what the hell is going on,” he said. “I’ve had pretty near enough.”

Wednesday’s storm arrived three weeks to the day after the fire raged through Phil’s Garage. Pratt, who had been welding a car in the shop, ended his day and returned to his house located on the same property. A short time later, he looked out to see smoke coming from the garage. Flames already were spreading to the ceiling by the time Pratt rushed across the driveway.

Monmouth Fire Chief Daniel Roy said the next day that hot slag or sparks from the welding had ignited something combustible in the vehicle, which burst into flames after Pratt left.

The fire destroyed three vehicles, including Pratt’s pristine 1971 Buick Riviera Boattail and a pickup truck and car owned by a pair of customers. The truck owner is not seeking compensation, Pratt said. The car’s owner called her insurance company, which sent a wrecker to pick up the remains.

“I don’t know if they’ll come after me for it or not,” Pratt said. “Probably.”

The most devastating loss, though, were the tools and equipment Pratt had collected over the years, estimated by the tool salesman with whom Pratt works to be worth up to $180,000.

BAD LUCK

Pratt said he had insurance on the shop until about 10 years ago.

“I fought with the insurance company,” he said. “Every year they came they wanted more.”

Pratt said one year the company asked him to re-wire his shop, which he did. The next year it wanted a new heating system, which he had installed. The next year it wanted a wall around the furnace, which he built.

“The next year I was having a bad day when they showed up,” Pratt said.

The insurance company wanted Pratt to build a fireproof safe for his paint.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you get out of here?'” Pratt said. He has homeowners insurance on the house, but his shop went uninsured from that day on.

Pratt’s daughter, Kathryn Gilley, of Vienna, said the homeowners insurance is unlikely to pay for the four vehicles destroyed and damaged by the trees that fell Wednesday. The trees, each estimated to be more than 100 years old, crushed a Kia Sedona minivan with 100,000 miles and a large box truck. The impact also damaged a 2002 Ford Windstar minivan with just 67,000 miles that Pratt had just had repainted a few days earlier. The final vehicle, an old Dodge plow truck, apparently sustained only minor damage.

A regular stream of friends passed by Wednesday night and stopped to survey the damage. All tossed out exclamations, often profane, at Pratt’s bad luck, which most pointed out tended to come in threes. Several, hoping to lighten the mood, joked about having more firewood for the winter.

“It’s nothing but bad luck,” said Bernard Hallowell, of Monmouth. “You lose your garage and now all your vehicles are gone.”

Hallowell, who painted the Windstar, climbed in through a thick batch of branches, limbs and leaves to investigate the damage. The van, though nearly invisible in the growth, apparently was protected by the smashed box truck beside it.

“I think we can fix this, Phil,” Hallowell said excitedly. “Nothing is bent on the inside. It doesn’t look that bad.”

Pratt was glad to hear it. There has been a shortage of good news recently. The events have taken a toll on him and Pratt’s wife of 41 years, Shirley Pratt.

“I think she might be getting discouraged a little bit,” Phil Pratt said, a wry smile creasing his face.

Pratt said friends such as Hallowell have come out of the woodwork to help since the fire, beginning with the day after the fire, when a group arrived to sift through the ashes to salvage as many tools as possible. Friends and neighbors have given Pratt money and offered to help in any number of other ways.

“They’re good neighbors,” he said.

Gilley, who grew up in the house with eight siblings, said her parents have helped lots of people over the years, and now others are returning the favor.

“There’s been people here every day helping to clean,” she said. “Just guys in the neighborhood, coming to help.”

FAMILY HUB

More than the financial losses of the fire and now the storm, Pratt’s stepson, Gary Randall, worries about his father losing purpose. Pratt has had health concerns, but nothing could keep him from his shop.

“My dad’s the type of guy who has to be doing something,” Randall said. “He’s always been that way.”

The garage was always a hub of life, not just for Pratt, but for his entire family, Gilley added. She has a photo of her son, taken when he was a young boy more than 30 years ago, working on a toy four wheeler he had placed on a lift just like his grandfather. Countless other memories seemed to flood her mind as she stared at the black spot that represents all that remains of the garage.

“Just so much has gone on at this place. It’s just part of the family,” Gilley said. “Going out to the garage. That’s what you did. It’s rough and it’s very rough on my father. This is his life, and it’s been his life forever.”

Who knows if that life can ever be restored to the way it was, but the Pratts’ children and grandchildren are doing what they can to get it as close as possible. The family launched a fundraiser on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe and is planning a benefit potluck supper and silent auction for 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Wales Grange Hall at 322 Centre Road.

Information is available on the event’s Facebook page — search for potluck dinner and silent auction — or by calling Gilley at 215-5966.

Hallowell and others who stopped by Wednesday said they plan to be there to support their friends.

“It’s kind of disturbing,” Hallowell said. “Having the fire and now this? It really just drives me nuts. These people, they just need a break.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]ntralmaine.com

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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