When Al Dyer lost his wallet 32 years ago after his canoe capsized on the Saco River, he thought he’d never see it again.

But the Fairfield man got the contents back this week when a fellow Bath Iron Works employee found it on a riverbank — and that’s not even the biggest coincidence in the story.

It all began when Dyer’s wife, Bonnie, arranged last week on Craigslist to buy a wooden Pepsi crate. She found out the Pepsi crate seller, Barry Haggan, also works at Bath Iron Works, so Dyer met Haggan after work and bought the box for his wife.

The next day, Dyer got an email from another BIW worker, Scott McDowell, saying he had found Dyer’s driver’s license, concealed weapons permit and Bath Iron Works identification card on a beach on the Saco River. Haggan is the supervisor of McDowell, a materials designer who started working at BIW on June 6.

“I was shocked,” Dyer recalled in an interview. “It was, like, how can this be? It was such a long, long time ago. The wallet should be in the Atlantic Ocean someplace by now.”

McDowell had found the wallet during a recent canoe trip. He goes on an annual canoe trip with friends that starts in Hiram, and they normally fish and camp overnight on an island downstream.

McDowell and his friends docked on the island on May 28, pulling their canoes 10 yards onto the rocky shore around 4 p.m. He looked down at the brown stones and something black stood out.

“I saw a black wallet. It looked really old and I could tell it had been in the water a long time,” McDowell said in an interview. “The ink had almost completely bled from the three ID cards in the wallet, but what caught my eye was the fact that he was a BIW associate. It had expired in ’87.”

At first, McDowell was incredulous.

“I couldn’t believe it; I had to look twice,” McDowell said. “It was almost creepy looking. The picture was so old and worn out.”

The wallet, which was nylon with Velcro, was in such bad shape that McDowell threw it away. But the license and other cards were in pretty good condition. The IDs had a Brunswick address for Dyer, and through an Internet search, McDowell found Dyer’s old address; but when he called the phone number, it was out of service.

So McDowell showed the weathered ID card to his supervisor, Haggan, and he asked around. Word of mouth put McDowell in touch with Dyer, an electrical designer who worked in a different building at BIW and didn’t know McDowell or Haggan.

“It’s crazy. It’s almost like the ID was meant to get back in his hands, like fate brought it back to him,” McDowell said.

Another coincidence: Dyer’s long-lost license and other items were returned to him on the 35th birthday of his daughter, Danielle, who was in the canoe the day it overturned in 1984. Dyer was 24 and lived in Brunswick with his family at the time.

When they launched the canoe on the Saco River at Hiram, the water level was high and the waves rough, because it had rained the previous day. On the way to Hiram, they had stopped at Dyer’s uncle’s house in Steep Falls. His uncle, who was safety-conscious, was adamant that they all wear life jackets because the river was so turbulent. Had they not stopped at his uncle’s house, probably not everyone would have worn the life jackets, according to Dyer.

He, his then-wife and 3-year-old Danielle were in one canoe. Their friends, a couple with a young boy, were in another.

Moments after they put their canoes into the river, Dyer’s canoe capsized in the rapids. He lost everything that was loose — camera, clothing, car keys and his wallet.

“We had to scramble and catch our paddles,” he said. “We lost the canoe and long pants and car keys and stuff. We got the baby in the boat, put ashore, sat and talked and tried to come up with a plan.”

“We had lost the car keys, so we walked through the woods until we found a road,” he said. “We started walking and got a ride. It was one of those days from hell that we all go through.”

McDowell estimates the spot where the canoe capsized is at least a few miles away from where he found the wallet on the island shore. He theorizes that the wallet washed up on the shore and remained wedged between rocks all these years.

Last week’s discovery that the wallet was found has brought back a lot of memories for Dyer. His friend who was in the other canoe that day in 1984 has since died, and Dyer thinks not only about him and his family, but also of his old neighbors.

Danielle is married, her last name is now Tetreau, and she lives in Topsham. Dyer texted her to tell her about the discovery of his wallet. She was as surprised as anyone, but was so young when the canoe capsized that she remembers little of the accident.

“She said she has some vague memories of the water,” Dyer said.

He also told the story to others, including family members, co-workers and friends. “Everyone was, like, in awe of the whole thing,” Dyer said.

He said while it was nice to get the items back, “it’s that trip down memory lane that’s been more of a lasting impression.

“What it triggered has been quite an adventure in the last week.”

Dyer said he plans to keep the returned cards on his desk at home, though “when I die I don’t know where they’ll go. It’s all pretty bizarre, and everybody’s awestruck.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.